Southeast Asians have banded together to support a Malaysian Paralympic athlete who scored the best in his event but was disqualified to receive the gold medal.
Shot putter Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli, 31, topped the F20 final
with a throw of 17.94 meters
on Tuesday. However, he failed to win the gold because he showed up late for the event.
- Zolkefli reportedly arrived three minutes late to the call room. Still, the referee allowed him to compete, under protest.
- Two other athletes — Australia’s Todd Hodgetts and Ecuador’s Jordi Congo — were also late for the event. The three reportedly claimed they did not hear the announcement or it was delivered in a language they did not understand.
- Ukraine, whose Maksym Koval trailed behind Zolkefli, lodged a formal protest with the technical committee after the event. In the end, Zolkefli, Hodgetts and Congo were all classified as Did Not Start (DNS).
- World Para Athletics Rule 5.5 states that athletes absent in the call room at the scheduled time will be shown, in the results, as DNS. This bumped Koval’s 17.34 meters up to gold, while his teammate, Oleksandr Yarovyi (17.30 meters), and Greece’s Efstratios Nikolaidis (15.93 meters), took home silver and bronze, respectively.
- The F20 class in shot put is reserved for athletes with intellectual disabilities. With his 17.94-meter throw, Zolkefli — who won the gold in Rio in 2016 — broke his own world record of 17.29 meters, which he set at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championship.
United for Malaysia: Zolkefli’s disqualification has sparked national outrage in Malaysia, which was also commemorating its 64th Independence Day on Tuesday. However, the matter has also drawn other Southeast Asians to rally behind him in solidarity.
Amid the outcry, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) released a statement maintaining its decision based on technical grounds. It also defended Ukraine, which has since been accused of “robbing” Zolkefli’s gold
- Many critics questioned why Zolkefli, Hodgetts and Congo were still allowed to compete if they were late in the first place. “They may have had a logical reason for being late, and therefore we allowed them to compete and look at the facts of the matter afterward,” IPC spokesman Craig Spence said in response, according to the Associated Press via ESPN.
- World Para Athletics, the IPC subcommittee that governs track and field, said a referee considered all available evidence while allowing the latecomers to compete. Ultimately, the referee determined that “there was no justifiable reason” for the athletes’ failure to report on time.
- Spence said they do not see the decision as a harsh penalty. He pointed out that other athletes arrive five minutes before their event starts. “I’m sorry. Rules are rules. The decision was taken,” he said. “It wasn’t the Ukrainians’ fault that the Malaysian was late.”
Zolkefli himself apologized to fellow Malaysians and vowed to “rise again.”
“I apologize to all Malaysians. Thank you for supporting me,” he wrote on Instagram
. “Thank you for your words of encouragement.”