A medal hopeful who ended his campaign at the 2018 Asian Games (Asiad) empty handed has announced his plans to call time on his career, the latest example of the lesser-known side of professional sportspeople.
Quach Cong Lich, who failed to win a medal in both the men’s 400m and 400m hurdle events in Asia’s biggest competition, took to Facebook to express his intention to give up professional sporting career on Sunday, just right after Vietnam’s sports delegation returned from their fruitful Asiad campaign in Indonesia.
Citing low payment, Lich said on his Facebook that he is considering bidding goodbye to his career to ensure long-term financing.
“Maybe I decided to stop everything here,” he said, referring to the disappointing medal hunt in Indonesia.
“[With a wage of] VND4.5 million [US$193.5] per month, I cannot take care of my family in the future.”
Quach Cong Lich, born in the northern province of Thanh Hoa, is so talented that he was sent to the U.S. for a year-long training campaign in 2015, which helped him win the men’s 400m event at the 2017 Asian Grand Prix.
However, Lich was repeatedly hit by bad luck when it comes to major international competitions. During these contests, Lich would either get injured, or finish the competition only a few centiseconds slower than the gold medalist.
For instance, in the men’s 400m hurdle final at the 2017 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, Lich regretfully missed the gold medal, clocking only 0.02 second behind the winner.
At the 2018 Asian Games, Lich advanced to the men’s 400m semifinal but could not complete his run because of a sudden injury.
Eight years without salary increase
Lich’s story is a fresh reminder of how tough, financially, life is for sports professionals in Vietnam.
It is a cruel reality that professional sporting career is not a cash cow, and not all athletes are able to save up money and afford building their own houses.
“If you win big prize, you get the money. If there is no prize, then you have nothing,” Lich’s status reads.
In the Facebook post, Lich thanked his fans for their support, but asserted that a passion for sports is never enough to keep one in the career.
“[Athletes] are only praises when they make achievements; otherwise, we are losers,” the 1994-born athlete emotionally shared in his post.
“King will always be king, and queen will always stand behind him even though she wins gold,” he wrote.
Lich appeared to refer to the alleged unfair treatment of supporters toward football and track-and-field, respectively known as the ‘king’ and ‘queen’ of sports.
The metaphor was made against the backdrop that the Vietnamese men’s football team was welcomed home from the 2018 Asian Games as true heroes, even though they lost their bronze medal match against the UAE. In the meantime, the track-and-field team brought home the historic gold medal in long jump, but received no such warm welcome.
Under current regulations, a professional athlete receives a wage of VND150,000 ($6.45), and VND200,000 ($8.6) worth of dining costs for each practicing day.
So Lich would receive VND4.5 million ($193.5) for a full month of practice, with the meal stipends excluded from the payment.
The wages are a bit higher for athletes considered as ‘key investments,’ or those than can win major international competitions - VND400,000 ($17.2) for both the daily wage and dining allowance.
In 2017, Lich used to be on the list of such key athletes, in prep for that year’s SEA Games, thus entitled to such high incomes.
But by 2018, Lich was ousted from the list and returned to the meager income for ‘normal’ athletes.
"The 2018 list of key athletes was based on their performance and the ability to win medals at the Games in Indonesia,” said Tran Duc Phan, deputy director of the General Department of Sports and Physical Training.
“Due to tight budget, only 50-60 athletes, excluding Lich, were entitled to this scheme in 2018.”
Not final decision
The low daily salary of VND400,000 has been in place since 2011, despite repeated petitions to the Prime Minister from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to increase the wages.
In order to compensate for the athletes, some localities have specific regulations to pay an extra salary and allowance to support their athletes.
In Lich’s case, Thanh Hoa sports authority pays him an additional amount of VND10.5 million ($451.5) per month as Luu Van Hung, head of the province’s athletics division, revealed to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper during an interview on Monday.
In this reasoning, Lich should be receiving a total of about VND15 million ($645) from both the provincial wage and the VND4.5 million.
The athlete did not mention this source of income in his Facebook post.
“Lich will return to Thanh Hoa in the next two days, I will meet him for a talk. I hope that Lich continue to stick to this career,” Hung said.
On Monday’s discussion with Tuoi Tre, Lich said that he’s going to make the final decision about giving up his sporting career, from the things he shared on Facebook.
“I need more time to work with Thanh Hoa’s sports administrators to when my contract with the locality is due,” he said.
“If I can terminate the contract, I think I will give up professional competitions.”
Room to grow
People are hoping Lich will have a second thought on his plan of retirement from professional sports.
Vietnam’s national athletics coach Vu Ngoc Loi, who directly trained Lich, said the young athlete is still fully capable of winning gold medal at the upcoming 2019 SEA Games once he recovers from the injury.
He is in fact expected to be the main force of Team Vietnam at the 2021 SEA Games
“He is very hard-working, has good morale, no coach has ever had to complain about him,” Loi talked of Lich.
“At the Asiad, due to the pressure of the game, Lich was injured and unable to achieve results as expected,” the coach explained.
“Lich is 25 years old and he will be shining in the next two SEA Games if he continues to follow the sport,” Loi expressed his confidence in his student.