Yakeb provides ‘lifeline’ for former elite athletes but needs whole-of-society support to achieve goals

Athletes are often given rock-star treatment, especially when they achieve success, but are quickly forgotten the minute they bid farewell to sports.

This is common among athletes worldwide, regardless of their status at the height of their sporting careers.

Some of them face difficulty in securing jobs, while others struggle to transition from dominating a sporting arena to being confined to a cubicle in a corporate building.

Their welfare, especially upon retirement, then comes to mind. There are conversations that the allowances for elite athletes in Malaysia will be increased. This is in addition to the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), and Social Security Organisation (Socso) contributions for athletes that will come into effect next year.

But beyond these initiatives, and those carried out by the National Sports Council, is the work done by the National Athlete Welfare Foundation (Yakeb).

Its chairman, Datuk Noorul Ariffin Abdul Majeed, shares with Twentytwo13 the common problems faced by athletes and the foundation’s initiatives in getting more former athletes to sign up, and be a part of the organisation so as to receive assistance.

What are the common problems faced by Malaysian ex-athletes?

Noorul Ariffin: The common problems include physical injuries and their long-term effects, difficulty in transitioning to a new career or lifestyle, a loss of identity and purpose, and mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

Financial struggle is also a challenge, especially if they don’t plan properly for life after sports. Athletes and ex-athletes need to have a support system and access to resources that can help them navigate these challenges successfully.

Several common illnesses can be seen in ex-athletes. One of the most prevalent is chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated head injuries and concussions.

Other common illnesses include osteoarthritis, joint pain, and chronic pain from previous injuries. Additionally, mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are also commonly observed among ex-athletes. They need to seek proper medical care and support to manage these illnesses effectively.

Some of these athletes don’t know of Yakeb or don’t reach out for help. Why do you think this is?

Noorul Ariffin: There could be several reasons why ex-athletes do not seek help from Yakeb. Some may be reluctant to ask for help due to pride, or a sense of self-reliance. They may also fear being stigmatised or judged for admitting to mental health issues or physical ailments.

Additionally, there may be a lack of awareness or understanding regarding the available resources and support systems provided by the foundation. It is important for Yakeb to actively promote and maintain open lines of communication with these former athletes, ensuring they are aware of the assistance and care available to them.

What’s the best way to then attract more people to join Yakeb?

Noorul Ariffin: It’s by offering attractive benefits … by providing a range of benefits that cater to the specific needs of ex-athletes, such as healthcare coverage, mental health support, career transition assistance, financial planning services, and legal support. These benefits can incentivise ex-athletes to join Yakeb and feel supported.

It’s important to create networking opportunities via events, conferences, and workshops that will enable ex-athletes to connect, share experiences, and explore potential post-athletic career paths. Facilitating networking opportunities can help ex-athletes see the value in joining Yakeb and being a part of a supportive community.

We will continue advocating for the rights of athletes by proactively championing their causes and wellbeing … addressing issues such as fair compensation, injury prevention and treatment, and opportunities for post-career success. By demonstrating a commitment to advancing athlete welfare, Yakeb can attract those who appreciate such advocacy efforts.

It is essential to provide educational resources and programmes to help ex-athletes develop new skills, pursue further education, or explore entrepreneurial ventures. This demonstrates Yakeb’s commitment to supporting athletes beyond their athletic careers and attract those looking to continue with their personal and professional growth.

It’s also important to forge partnerships with sports organisations and governing bodies to advocate collectively for athletes’ rights and welfare.

Ultimately, Yakeb must promote its value proposition and actively engage with ex-athletes, emphasising the support and benefits available to them.

What are some of the challenges Yakeb faces?

Noorul Arrifin: It’s not widely recognised by ex-athletes. You’ll be surprised to know that some big former sporting stars aren’t registered with Yakeb.

Without a strong and cohesive organisation, it becomes challenging to advocate for the rights of ex-athletes effectively. Therefore, athletes must come together, establish clear objectives, and maintain a united front.

Adequate funding and long-term financial planning are necessary to sustain Yakeb’s initiatives to support its members, and to pursue legal and advocacy efforts.

We have to be mindful of the diverse needs and interests of our members and find ways to cater to all.

What’s next for Yakeb? Any major plans for 2024?

Noorul Arrifin: We carried out many initiatives in 2023, such as membership drives, assisting our former athletes, including former squash star Kenneth Low, and footballer Khalid Ali.

We also collaborated with the National Heart Institute and Thomson Hospital to look into our former athletes’ medical needs.

As for 2024, we will continue to strengthen our past initiatives. Increasing membership is a priority. By expanding our membership, we will have a stronger voice and be able to advocate for the interests and rights of former athletes more effectively.

We will enhance our support services. By offering comprehensive support, we can help former athletes navigate the challenges they may face after retirement and ensure a smooth transition into their post-sports careers.

We struck collaborations with several organisations, including state governments and universities, and will build on such relationships to see how best we can help our members. By working together, we can pool our resources and expertise to address common challenges and achieve shared goals.

We will continue enhancing our communication, and keeping our members well-informed of our activities.

By setting these targets and working diligently towards achieving them, we can ensure that Yakeb remains a valuable resource for all retired athletes, supporting them in their journey towards a fulfilling life after sports.

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