Gymnast star kept off national team because of long absence, not punishment: sports authority

By Hieu Luong   January 17, 2024 | 04:59 pm PT
Gymnast star kept off national team because of long absence, not punishment: sports authority
Gymnast Pham Nhu Phuong (L) and her coach Nguyen Thuy Duong. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
Vietnam Sports Administration said gymnast Pham Nhu Phuong’s prolonged absence from national team sessions had disqualified her, not because she was punished.

The organizing body said Phuong had not met the standards of the national team.

The statements came from a Vietnam Sports Administration report to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, submitted after a meeting with national gymnastics team coaching staff on Tuesday.

According to the report, on Dec. 9, 2023, coach Nguyen Ha Thanh received a commitment from Phuong's family to take a leave of absence from Dec. 14, 2023 to Jan. 3, 2024. The leave was for travel outside the country.

However, coach Thanh and coach Nguyen Thuy Duong, who directly manage Phuong at the National Sports Training Center in Hanoi, did not report the leave of absence to head coach Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, who was sick in hospital.

On Dec. 19, 2023, when head coach Thuy learned Phuong had been absent, she reported to the National Sports Training Center and asked that Phuong be removed from training.

The gymnastic division then reported to the High-Performance Sports Department I, and the Sports Administration followed up by removing Phuong from all training and benefits during her absence, which had begun Dec. 14, 2023.

Because Phuong was not present in Vietnam and took a long break from training, the national team's coaching staff said it would now be too difficult for her to meet the training curriculum, so they recommended she not join the national team in 2024.

The Sports Administration saw this as the correct process and said there was no need for disciplinary action against Phuong.

At the same time, the administration affirmed that if the athlete continued to practice and ensured her physical fitness, she would still be called up to the team later.

Many aspects of this story are wrinkles from a larger controversy regarding accusations that coaches have misappropriated athletes’ bonuses and prize money.

Phuong herself set things off by accusing assistant coach Duong of taking "commissions" from her earnings and winnings. Authorities have since affirmed that Duong committed a violation.

She has submitted a report of the money that she took from Phuong, and the Sports Administration will verify this with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and propose a solution. The first step of the process will be the return of funds to the athletes they were stolen from. Duong has also been released from the national team, at least until the process is over and issues are solved, according to local and national Vietnamese athletics governing bodies.

The Sports Administration affirmed that the incident only happened to athletes at the National Sports Training Center in Hanoi. The coaches of the national gymnastics team, along with the National Sports Complex do not have a policy of "taxing" any athlete. This was confirmed by the athletes of the gymnastics team present at the meeting.

Coach Thanh was also forced to leave the team because of the same reason as Duong.

Phuong came to prominence in 2018 when she won the Youth Olympic gold medal. At SEA Games 31 hosted in Vietnam, she won two silver and two bronze medals.

After not being called up to the national team for the 2024 training camp, she decided to retire at the age of 20.

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