Malaysian netizens called on the government to support former para-athletes after a former Malaysian Paralympic champion was spotted selling tissues for a living in Kuala Lumpur.
Para-swimmer Koh Lee Peng, a seven-time Asean Para Games champion, was recorded selling tissues at Bukit Bintang, a luxury shopping district.
In the TikTok video, which was recorded by Nicholas Lim Pinn Yang and posted on Feb. 1, Koh can be seen in a wheelchair while wearing a 2017 Asean Para Games T-shirt.
With five of her medals hanging around her neck, she asks Yang if he wanted a small or big packet of tissue.
While chatting with Yang, Koh explains her current situation.
“I have no choice. I have to live. Things are getting expensive. I have to rely on myself. I have bills to pay monthly,” Koh says.
According to news reports, Koh previously held an office job.
She decided to leave as she faced accessibility issues, including the fact that her workplace building did not have lifts.
The former para-swimmer represented Malaysia at the Asean Para Games from 2001 to 2005, winning seven gold and three silver medals. Koh was named Penang’s Best Paralympic Sportswoman in 2015 and Penang’s Female Paralympian of the Year in 2016.
The TikTok video has since garnered over 440,000 views and more than 37,000 likes, with many viewers calling for officials to intervene.
Users reportedly tagged Hannah Yeoh, youth and sports minister and member of Parliament for Segambut, to bring Koh’s situation to her attention.
However, it is reportedly not the first time Koh made headlines for selling tissues.
Last year, a Twitter user who witnessed Koh selling tissue covers in Bukit Bintang also called for a policy change to address para-athletes.
The viral tweet led to government agencies offering Koh help, including the National Sports Council of Malaysia, who invited her to join an entrepreneurial program for former athletes.
However, Koh reportedly rejected the offers as she wanted to be “self reliant,” adding that she wants to live independently and that she is not “ashamed of this honest way of earning a living.”
Noorul Ariffin Abdul Majeed, chairman of the National Athletes’ Welfare Foundation (YAKEB), told social media users to stop sensationalizing and exploiting Koh’s predicament for their personal agenda.
Don’t tarnish the good reputation and name of national athletes for personal or political gain. It will spark a negative perception that can cause public confusion and result in a lack of support for national athletes.
The former athlete reportedly earns about RM800 (approximately $186) per month selling tissues. She also receives RM300 (approximately $70) monthly as assistance from the YAKEB.