SINGAPORE: Ahmad Taufiq Muhammad easily lifts over twice his 145 kilogram weight. He is the closest Singapore has to a professional strongman athlete, and the only Asian who has qualified for an invite to the prestigious Arnold Strongman Classic in South Africa.
He estimates it will cost between S$7,000 and S$9,000 to prepare for the competition. But because his is not a recognised Olympic sport, Taufiq does not receive funding grants from Sport Singapore or a national sports association.
With encouragement from a few friends, he turned to crowdfunding to help defray his costs, and successfully managed to raise over US$4,000 (S$ 5,417) on crowdfunding platform MAKEACHAMP.
Taufiq’s case highlights the plight of athletes who still find it tough getting financial support, despite growing government funding for sports over the years.
Crowdfunding has provided a lifeline for some of these athletes, although successful campaigns – like the one by rower Saiyidah Aisyah which raised over AU$12,500 (S$12,918) for her Rio Olympic bid – may be the exception rather than the norm.
Strongman athlete Ahmad Taufiq Muhammad can lift double his 145 kilogram weight. (Photo: Loke Kok Fai)
For crowdfunding campaigns, Taufiq told Channel NewsAsia that it is necessary for athletes to market themselves – be it on social media or other platforms.
"As long as you start crowdfunding, you just cannot sit down there and wait for the funds to come in. You some more need to be proactive in terms of finding sponsors, finding people to support you,” said Taufiq.
“You need to put yourself out there, and putting yourself out there in a good light because nobody likes somebody who doesn't have a nice personality and so on."
National sailors Yukie Yokoyama and Joan Poh agree with Taufiq. The duo turned to crowdfunding after they had failed to meet the Singapore Sailing Federation's minimum criteria for the Olympic training squad.
This meant they had to pay their way to the Open European Championship in Spain – which served as a selection trial for the Olympics.
“It is more like a kick start, like how in entrepreneurship programmes you get a lump sum from certain big companies,” said Joan. “The public has to believe in you or have some trust and faith in you, or they must like your story or believe in it. After all it's a web page or a call or email away."
Their campaign raised just over US$2,000 (S$2,708).
National sailors Yukie and Joan in Spain, helped there by their crowdfunding efforts. (Photo: Singapore Sailing Federation)
ISSUES AROUND ACCOUNTABILITY
Given that athletes who turn to crowdfunding are doing it of their own accord, there may be issues around accountability, such as how the funds are used, or expected outcomes for donors.
“It is difficult to enforce a lot of regulations when it comes to crowdfunding or crowdfunding especially because this is done at their (individual) level, not at a corporation level at this moment,” said Singapore Sailing Federation’s Performance Manager Chua Tan Ching.
“If we police too much of it, then we are micro-managing the whole thing… (Then) at the end of their campaign, all they would have learnt (would be that) should anything go wrong, look to Singapore Sailing for help."
Asian Sponsorship Association Vice President Ben Flint said he does not see any immediate risks with the crowdfunding model.
“The crowd that are funding these particular platforms – as long as they are aware of the inherent risks, that they're not going to get a commercial return from this necessarily, (that) they are donating towards the health and vitality and the future career of a particular athlete – I don't see any immediate risks with the model,” he said
“The only downside of this is if those individuals or platforms who use technology to try to source for funds don't honour those rewards and thank you’s, then of course the system starts to unravel."
He added that such concerns can be alleviated through the adoption of practices on online peer-to-peer selling platforms like eBay or Carousell.
"Where an individual who doesn't honour a deal – whichever side of the deal they're sitting on – then they can get a bad rating next to their name and they can get a black mark next to their name and I think the next time that individual or platform goes out to try and find funding on another round, then they won't get it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sport Singapore told Channel NewsAsia that it is not against crowdfunding, but it advises athletes and contributors "to clearly understand the rationale and obligations" of each effort, and to engage in meaningful ways.