National gymnast gets stolen bonus back from coaches

By Hieu Luong   March 6, 2024 | 05:04 pm PT
Vietnam's former national gymnast star Pham Nhu Phuong has received back her bonus money that her coaches had previously appropriated.
Pham Nhu Phuong at SEA Games 31 hosted in Vietnam in 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Pham Nhu Phuong at SEA Games 31 hosted in Vietnam in 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

In mid-January, Phuong said she had to pay 10% of her medal bonus, which is given to athletes who earn medals at international competitions, to head coach Nguyen Thuy Duong, as well as 50% of other bonuses, and an extra illegal monthly fee that her coaches forced her to pay.

The Vietnam Sports Administration (VSA) has found two coaches, Duong and assistant coach Nguyen Ha Thanh, responsible for the appropriation.

According to Pham Hong Anh, Phuong's older sister and agent, before the Lunar New Year, her family received 50% of the bonuses that were taken from Phuong, but she didn’t take back 10% of the medal reward that was appropriated due to a lack of transparency.

The 10% had been appropriated by the coaches and then given to a committee of parents of gymnasts on the national team that used it on extra expenses for the athletes, including rebuilding toilets, repairing water heaters, new air conditioners, as well as in keeping a fund to support injured athletes.

Hong Anh explained that an attempt was made to give her an unclear sum of money in an envelope, but that the lack of transparency, and the fact that maybe the committee had used the money for the right purpose, impelled her not to accept it.

"If the money is really given to the parents to take care of the athletes at Hanoi Sports Training Center, we will not take it back, because it is used for the right purposes. If this is not the case, we still need to confirm the exact amount of money that was collected," Hong Anh said.

Previously, Phuong said members of the team had clocked overtime on Sundays and holidays, even when they didn't actually practice, in order to receive bonuses and then pay 50% back to the coach. Phuong has returned the overtime bonus that she received during her time on the national team.

However, coach Truong Tuan Hien, who's in charge of the men's gymnastics team, and coach Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, in charge of the women's gymnastics team, both denied taking the money for personal gain but claimed they instead used it to set up a fund to pay for other team expenses.

Pham Nhu Phuong during a session at the Hanoi National Sports Training Center. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Pham Nhu Phuong during a session at the Hanoi National Sports Training Center. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Phuong came to prominence in 2018 when she won the Youth Olympic gold medal. At the SEA Games 31 hosted in Vietnam in 2022, she won two silver and two bronze medals.

The bonus theft incident went public in January following training conflict between Phuong and her coaches. She was taking a leave of absence to travel abroad and visit her friends. Phuong confirmed that she sent a leave application letter to coach Thanh and Duong at the National Sports Training Center in Hanoi, but the coach forgot to send it to VSA, which is the main reason why she did not get called up to the national team.

Because of this, Phuong decided to retire at the age of 20. After that, she exposed the current state of the national team, saying that coaches have been taking percentages of athletes' bonuses and medal rewards.

VSA worked with Phuong and encouraged her to return to training and competition. However, Phuong affirmed that she would not withdraw her decision.

As of March 2, four coaches have been disciplined and have left the team, including Thanh Thuy, head coach of the national women's gymnastics team, and three other coaches, namely Do Thi Ngan Thuong, Thuy Duong and Ha Thanh.

However, Hong Anh said she believes that these coaches are just victims.

"I wonder if such punishment involves the right person and the right crime," Hong Anh said.

Hong Anh hopes there will be no more victims like her sister Phuong or the coaches. In addition, she hopes VSA will invest in hiring more foreign experts so that athletes can develop in the best environment.

On March 1, VSA sent an explanation report to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism about the incident, 35 days late compared to instructions from the ministry. However, VSA said the incident involved many people so it needed more time to evaluate the situation.

If upon the ministry’s review of the report it finds details not specific enough, VSA will be asked for further clarification. Deputy Minister Hoang Dao Cuong, who’s in charge of handling the incident, has already said the VSA report is still incomplete.

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