Mercenary attitude towards sports doesn't pay off

Lately, there has been much discourse on whether we can scale greater heights in sports by offering greater monetary rewards to our athletes.

We must first understand what motivates them to stick to the grind for the brief moments of glory.

It is certainly not vanity that pushes them to the limit of endurance.

They make great sacrifices and travel long and often arduous paths before they see results, if at all. They may suffer injuries that stay with them beyond their sporting years.

In their moments of anguish and self-doubt, it is unlikely that they persevere by thinking about the $1 million they might receive on winning an Olympic gold medal.

Sportsmen are dreamers, if not entrepreneurial in spirit. They have chosen a less-trodden path in a personal journey that leads them either to the podium or into obscurity.

They are risk takers, not unlike artists, writers, businessmen and scientists.

From the outset, they know there is no sure thing, but they take up the challenge nonetheless. They personify courage beyond words.

What keeps them going is knowing that they have trained their hardest and given their best in every competition they go to.

They have traded so much so that we can see our nation's flag hoisted and anthem played at the Olympics. These moments are priceless.

Thus, we should create the supportive environment to make them feel worthy, regardless of how successful they are.

To cast a mercenary attitude towards athletes - we pay them well and so, they should deliver - seems so transactional, if not patronising.

Can we double the haul of medals by doubling the rewards? The answer is "no".

We should also create the social conditions for athletes to start second or third careers when they decide to exit from sports.

Not everything can be weighed in cost-and-benefit terms, lest we become cold and heartless in how we treat our sportsmen and women.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'Mercenary attitude towards sports doesn't pay off'. Print Edition | Subscribe