MALAYSIA – A viral news regarding the Malaysian six-time national squash champion from 1995 to 1997, Kenneth Low Ewe Loong, is sensationalised by many online websites without further fact-checking.
“Unfortunately, the days of Low’s triumphs, when he contributed to Malaysian squash’s international glory, have become a faded memory.” said a Malaysian website.
Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh posted on Facebook on Monday (31 July) to dispel the misunderstanding that Low’s welfare was overlooked.
She said the National Athletes Welfare Foundation (YAKEB) had provided various assistance to former national squash ace Low, who is reported to be experiencing health and financial issues.
“The foundation visited the former national champion early this month, long before the case went viral on media a few days ago,” Yeoh clarified.
Hannah, who shared a chronology regarding the matter, said YAKEB also brought Kenneth to the Selayang Hospital for an eye checkup on 10 July.
On 13 July, YAKEB visited Kenneth and his employers at his workplace at the Best Archery Centre in Glo Damansara.
Yeoh said that, at the meeting, the 44-year-old former athlete also received RM500 (approximately $109) emergency assistance from the foundation, which also stated its commitment to helping Kenneth with a monthly allowance of RM300.
In addition, she said YAKEB also made an appointment for Kenneth to see a neurologist at the Sungai Buloh Hospital on Friday (4 Aug).
“YAKEB will report on Kenneth’s progress from time to time and he is being monitored by YAKEB for treatment assistance,” she said.
Earlier, local media reported that Kenneth is working as a cleaner to make ends meet and suffering from health issues.
He is also believed to have suffered from a stroke, resulting in him having coordination and motor skill problems, cognitive disability, and short-term memory impairment.
He also does not have the money to undergo tests to determine the extent of the damage to his brain.
Helps pour in for retired six-time national squash champion after his predicament went viral
The Squash Rackets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) has set up a relief fund to ease the burden of Mr Low after his hardships went viral.
Its president Gerard Monteiro said the association collected more than RM30,000 ($6,600) in donations from various parties including former national squash players.
“We have a group of 80’s players and me who chipped in after we saw the article about him in the media.
“We have a lot of well-wishers who came in to set a fund for him,” Monteiro said.
He said SRAM had opened a special account for the purpose of channelling financial assistance to the former athletes.
From a squash elite to a cleaner
The Malaysian news outlet, Free Malaysia Today (FMT), recounted that Mr Low’s journey has transformed from a renowned wall-basher, formerly ranked as the 4th in Asia and 38th in the global rankings, to performing tasks such as cleaning floors, mirrors, doors, tables, and chairs at his current workplace.
Two years ago, alongside foreign colleagues, he undertook responsibilities such as mopping, sweeping floors, cleaning mirrors, and maintaining the interiors of elevators at condominiums.
Mr Low told FMT that he embraced his recent job at the Best Archery Centre in Glo Damansara, stating, “It’s a matter of survival, and I will do whatever it takes to earn a living.”
He maintained a perspective of gratitude, recognizing that despite challenges, he remains employed and unburdened, unlike many who are jobless.
Expressing his appreciation for the second chance offered by Jeffrey Kok, the owner-coach of the archery center, Mr Low stated, “The only happiness I have is being with good-hearted people.”
Jeffrey Kok shared that, despite Mr Low’s lack of archery knowledge, he hired him as a coach, emphasizing their practice of training coaches without prior archery experience.
“He needed urgent help but I didn’t employ him out of pity,” said Kok. “We look to train people with no archery experience as coaches because it is something we can teach from zero.”
Kok acknowledged the severity of Low’s disability, noting that his assigned tasks were aimed at reestablishing his physical coordination.
Kok remarked on Low’s resilience, acknowledging the difficulty of starting anew after achieving pinnacles of success, and praised him for his determination.
Acknowledging his modest income, Low shared, “No one will say they are happy with a monthly salary of RM1,500, but for me it is enough as I am able to eat, and to do little things that make me happy,” he said.
Low at his lowest
Following a stroke two years prior, Low found himself in a dire situation with little support, battling financial struggles and depression.
“I was all by myself, struggling financially and experiencing depression,” said Mr Low, whose marriage had broken down before he was struck by a stroke, and he has not seen his son, Mohamed Nico, who moved with his mother to Sabah since he was five years old.
“Nico is now 11, and my sadness will disappear if I have him beside me, and it will all be so different,” said Mr Low.
Despite his achievements in squash, Low no longer retains memories of his glory days and lacks photographic evidence of his triumphs.
He stared blankly when he was reminded it was his victory in the deciding game in 2000 that ended Pakistan’s stranglehold on the Asian team squash championships since the event’s inception in 1981.
Kenneth Low defeated Pakistan’s Mansoor Zaman in the individual semi-finals, rebounding to secure a thrilling title victory in Hong Kong with a score of 9-1, 9-3, 4-9, 9-5 against Ajaz Azmat.
Mr Low became aware of YAKEB’s existence when its chairman, Noorul Ariffin, personally visited him on the 16th of last month. This visit was prompted by a notification from former national high jumper Loo Kum Zee, who informed Noorul about Low’s situation.
For those interested in assisting Low, contributions can be made to Public Bank account number 4919922822, with the reference “Kenneth Low Welfare.”
Concerns arise among Malaysians regarding the plight of retired athletes
It is not an isolated incident that Malaysians have expressed their apprehension about the lack of official support for retired athletes, who receive only limited financial and medical aid from the government or sports authorities.
In a prior case, Koh Lee Peng, a seven-time ASEAN Para-swimming champion, captured the attention of Malaysian netizens on social media by disclosing her current occupation of selling tissues in the vibrant shopping district of Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur.
49-year-old Ms Koh had cerebral palsy since childhood, she represented Malaysia at the ASEAN Para Games from 2001 to 2005, and won a total of seven gold and three silver medals.
According to a Bernama report in 2022, Ms Koh said that it was her choice to sell small items and tissue packs so that she could live independently without expecting help from others all the time.
She also asked the public to avoid making false or unfounded accusations without knowing the full story.