Axe falls on Malaysia coach for fostering 'toxic culture'

Cheong Jun Hoong competing in the 10m platform event at the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, where she won the gold medal in July under the tutelage of her soon-to-be former coach Yang Zhuliang.
Cheong Jun Hoong competing in the 10m platform event at the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, where she won the gold medal in July under the tutelage of her soon-to-be former coach Yang Zhuliang.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's head diving coach has lost his job after allegedly allowing a "toxic culture" to develop among his team that led to rape, violence and bullying.

China-born Yang Zhuliang, 53, who has held the role since 2008, will not have his contract renewed when it runs out at the end of this month.

He led the nation to unprecedented success, with the country winning their first Olympic diving silver medal at the Rio Games while Cheong Jun Hoong became their first world champion at July's World Aquatics Championships.

Malaysia also clinched 12 of 13 diving golds at August's SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, with Singapore claiming the synchronised 3m springboard title after Wendy Ng was stripped of the gold for failing a doping test.

But allegations that another national coach, who was close to Yang, raped a young diver training for the next Olympics shocked the country and prompted sports officials to examine the team management. Assistant coach Huang Qiang denied committing rape when he was charged in court in October, and is due to stand trial.

Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said that while there were no allegations directed at Yang himself, a "toxic culture" had developed among the divers under his leadership.

"The main reason why (Yang's) contract as national diving head coach was not renewed was because of a culture and environment of fear among some of our divers," he said in a statement on Friday.

ALL HAPPENED UNDER HIS WATCH

The main reason why (Yang's) contract... was not renewed was because of a culture of fear... This culture... caused cases of rape, sexual harassment, violence, beatings, bullying and threats.

KHAIRY JAMALUDDIN, Malaysian Sports Minister, on the failings of China-born head diving coach Yang Zhuliang who enabled a culture of toxicity to set in.

"This culture and environment had caused cases of rape, sexual harassment, violence, beatings, bullying and threats."

As well as ensuring Malaysia performed well, he said it was Yang's responsibility to protect his team members.

"No gold medal is worth more than the safety of national athletes," he added.

But Yang described the claims as unfair.

"I seldom mix with the divers after training. And I don't pay any attention to their personal lives," he was cited as saying by The Star newspaper. "How could I possibly be in control of everything?"

As well as the rape allegation, local media reported tensions between coaches and athletes, including a fight breaking out between Huang and two-time Olympic medallist Pandelela Rinong during a volleyball game.

An Australian coach has been selected to take over from Yang, reports said, without identifying the person.

Yang told the Malay Mail that some divers also wanted him out but reigning 10m platform world champion Cheong will rue his departure.

"I am disappointed that his contract is not being renewed," the 27-year-old told the New Straits Times. "Yes, there were times that I was scared of him but that was only out of respect, not because I was scared that something would happen to me.

"It is the same like when you were scared of your teacher in school."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2017, with the headline 'Axe falls on Malaysia coach for fostering 'toxic culture''. Print Edition | Subscribe