TAO Li, Singapore's top swim star, is not happy that she will have to help pay to develop young swimmers.
The Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) has become the latest national sports body to 'tax' its athletes.
It has introduced a 15 per cent levy on its swimmers' cash awards, beginning with medals won at last month's South-east Asia Games in Thailand.
Three-fifths of the levy (or 9 per cent of the total award) will go to the swimmers' coaches over the past four years in a 4:3:2:1 ratio - a move that Tao Li is in favour of.
'I don't mind giving the coaches some of my winnings, because they've really helped me in my swimming,' said the 17-year-old, who has been trained by Peter Churchill for the past three years, and Jin Xiaoli before the Australian.
'Without coaches, we can't have success.'
The rest of the SSA levy (some 6 per cent of the total award) will go towards youth development - and this is her bone of contention.
The China-born swimmer will receive $23,750 for winning three individual titles and one team gold in Korat, as part of the Multi-Million- Dollar Award Programme (MAP).
Under the new levy system, she will be taxed $3,562.50, with $1,425 going to youth development.
'I've been in Singapore for five years but, up to now, the SSA has not paid for my overseas training. It's been paid for by my school,' said Tao Li, the Sportswoman of the Year who came to Singapore in 2003 and received citizenship in 2005.
She had donated part of her $312,500 Asian Games MAP award - a reward for her 50m butterfly gold and 100m butterfly bronze - to the Sports School, and gave Churchill a present which was 'not very cheap'.
'Why are they using our money on youth development? We can use the money to help ourselves train and reach a higher level,' she added.
'If they want to cultivate youth, they should find their own money, not pay using our awards. It's through our hard work that we got the money. So, I don't see the point that we should give the money to the youths.'
Her comments drew a sharp response from the SSA.
Its vice-president, Oon Jin Gee, pointed out that the association had spent 'easily in excess of $20,000' on the swimmer in sending her for overseas meets like the World Championships, Hong Kong Open, Japan International and an attachment stint at the Australian Institute of Sport.
So he was 'very disappointed' with her response concerning youth development.
'Even with the Sports School funding it, it's our taxpayers' dollars going into her development. It doesn't matter which avenue it comes from, it's still Singapore's support for her,' he said.
'I'm also disappointed in the fact that with the MAP awards she took home for the 2005 SEA Games and 2006 Asian Games, instead of doing something that we'll expect in terms of exemplary conduct, she comes round demanding for more, such as food supplements and air-conditioning.'
Oon revealed that the association receives between $1.5 million and $2 million in annual funding from the Singapore Sports Council, with some $300,000 of that going towards high performance.
Of that amount, half goes to the elite swimmers, including Tao Li. Some 30 per cent is for the next tier of 'future SEA Games hopefuls', and the remainder, or about $60,000, is for the development of some 80 age-group swimmers.
Not the first to tax winnings
THE Singapore Swimming Association has just introduced a 15 per cent levy on its athletes' winnings.
Such deductions have been common place in other national sports associations for some time now.
For example, SingaporeSailing takes 20 per cent of the sailors' Multi-million dollar Award Programme (MAP) earnings, primarily for youth development.
The Singapore Bowling Federation also takes a 20 per cent cut - 15 per cent divided among the coaching staff, team managers and physiotherapists, and 5 per cent to the Bowlers' Welfare Fund.
For other tournament winnings, all 20 per cent goes to the Fund, which was set up for the keglers. The money is used for purposes like study loans.
The Singapore Shooting Association also takes 20 per cent - 5 per cent going to the coach, and 15 per cent to the Shooters' Benefit Fund, which is used, among other things, for celebrations.
The MAP awards, an initiative by the Singapore National Olympic Council, will be given out at a ceremony at StJames Power Station on Thursday.
Primarily sponsored by the Singapore Totalisator Board, the MAP rewards Singapore's athletes by giving a cash payout to medallists at the Olympic, Asian, Commonwealth and South-east Asia Games.
For the SEA Games, only champions are rewarded. Individuals receive $10,000 for their first gold, and $5,000 for their second and third golds.
Team event winners receive $15,000, while team sport champions get $30,000.
Reactions to SSA levy
'It's okay because it goes back to the coaches, and they're more or less responsible for where we are today, so they deserve the credit too.
'As for youth development, 6 per cent is not really a big deal, especially since it's for a good cause.'
ZACH ONG, 17, SEA Games 100m backstroke champion
'The coaches definitely deserve the 9 per cent. Because when we do well, people look at the swimmers, but they don't recognise the coaches along with the swimmers.
'The SSA has helped us a lot by sending us for preparatory meets, so this 6 per cent is a way to give back by helping the younger ones.'
QUAH TING WEN, 15, SEA Games 400m individual medley winner
'A lot of money has been invested in the swimmers by the SSA.
'So, I don't think it's an unfair ask, that when they start to win, they appreciate the coaches and put back a little bit into youth development that made them successful.
'Besides, we're talking about an insignificant amount of money. The top swimmers worldwide have coaches and managers who get a whole lot more than 9 per cent.'
JOHN DEMPSEY, SSA's coaching director
This story was first published on Jan 28, 2008.