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The price of Abiraame’s Olympics ambition

23rd December, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: Young figure-skater, C. Sree Abiraame’s ambition to represent Malaysia in the 2026 Winter Olympics has turned into a costly dream for her family.

Since she started skating at the age of three, her father, Chendren Balakrishnan has spent hundreds of thousands in providing equipment, training, coaching and tournament participation for the promising little star.

And last year, the engineer sold his house and car, and withdrew a portion of his Employees Provident Fund (EPF) to raise around RM200,000 to send his nine-year-old daughter, accompanied by his wife, R. Shyamala, to train under Alexander Ryabinin at the International Figure Skating Academy in Riga, Latvia.

With another RM120,000 sponsored by OMS Foundation, Chendren left for the north-eastern Europe state with his family in January to begin Sree Abiraame’s quest for Olympics glory.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the general increase in cost of living has disrupted his plan.

“Based on our calculations, the money should be sufficient for a year of training at Latvia. However, the pandemic made it difficult for us as the euro currency exchange rate rose against RM,” he added.

“Due to COVID-19, the academy started observing social distancing rules by allowing only one skater to use the rink at any one time since June, compared to 10 skaters at a time before that. This has caused the fee for an hour of training to go up from 10 euros (about RM50) to 120 euros. She needs to train for three to four hours a day to fulfil the academy requirements,” he said.

He said this did not include the coaching fee of about 35 euros per hour, which the coach had agreed to reduce to 30 euros because of their situation.

“So the budget went beyond our plan and we started to struggle even after trying to cut costs,” he told Bernama, adding that the training programme costs about RM350,000 to RM380,000 a year.

Having won more than 50 gold medals at various levels, Sree Abiraame has carved her name in the Asia Book of Records (ABOR) as the Youngest to Win Medals in International Figure Skating in 2019 and Malaysia Book of Records (MBOR) as the Youngest to Win “Skate Asia” Figure Skating Competition (Female) in 2017.

At one point, Chendren had wanted to throw in the towel but then decided to soldier on through crowdfunding by launching the Sree Abiraame Foundation (SREAF) in May.

He said SREAF initially planned to build an ice-skating academy in Malaysia and hire foreign coaches to give a chance for more children to take up the sport at a lower cost.

However, due to the current situation, the foundation is now focused on securing sponsorship for Sree Abiraame’s training.

“Previously, we had approached many in seeking sponsorship for Abiraame, but only (OMS chairman) P. Thiagarajan was willing to sponsor a total of RM800,000 for a period of eight years. Maybe it was our mistake to only highlight her success stories to the public but kept the difficulties secret, which created a perception we were doing good financially,” he said.

He said Abiraame had been showing good progress in Latvia, moving from level three to level six freestyle.

“We hope she can continue her training for another year to achieve the open freestyle gold and compete in European championships, en route to preparing Abi for the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics in Korea, before the Winter Olympics in Italy,” he added.

The family’s plight has caught the attention of Youth and Sports Minister, Datuk Reezal Merican Naina Merican after it was reported by a local news portal recently.

Reezal subsequently instructed the National Sports Council (NSC) and the National Sports Institute (NSI) to look into the matter immediately. – Bernama

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