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.
- 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.
Since I care a lot about ASEAN COUNTRY let’s go!!
Remember HIS name Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli from Malaysia 🇲🇾 BROKE THE WORLD RECORD SHOT PUT MENS F20 #Paralympics and winning Gold Medal 🥇 no other even not Ukraine.
🇮🇩 🇲🇾 🇱🇦 🇲🇲 🇵🇭 🇰🇭 🇹🇭 🇻🇳 🇸🇬 🇧🇳 pic.twitter.com/ad9V4p4pEm
— Bayu Arisandy🇮🇩 (@bayuarisandee) August 31, 2021
I cried… Thank you all so much😭 I love to see us asean get along with each other it truly warms my heart and have faith in humanity. Thank you again❤️
— roses are dead, love is fake (@ugoodfren) August 31, 2021
Pretty sure Malaysia will support the same way if this were to happen to us. It’s totally your win #MAS for a lot of us so cheer up to you and Ziyad, and happy Merdeka Day! 🇲🇾
— Vicky Amin (@vickyamin_) September 1, 2021
Go Ziyad🔥🔥 ASEAN countries are with you. ❤️ from 🇸🇬 https://t.co/U6HPUhuwC0
— مهيمن🇸🇬🇵🇸 (@mnmvnnn) September 1, 2021
JUSTICE FOR ZIYAD #MAS!
He really deserved gold medal and world record!!!
— 리수 (@eldiawunderkid) August 31, 2021
Maksym Koval ? Nah. Its Ziyad’s medal. You all mf scared of us Asean. If you lose, then act like it Ukraine. Be more gentle please. Lol https://t.co/bAuN3LRmYa
— エレン (@Ikhwxn___) September 1, 2021
— Nik Thurayya (@thurayyaburhan) August 31, 2021
— nick (@syerrrrr7) August 31, 2021
IPC’s response: 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.”