Malaysian Paralympian Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli had the longest throw at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics shot put F20 event. He even set a new world record at 17.94 meters. But he didn’t bring home the gold medal… because he showed up three minutes late for the competition.
Zolkefli was allowed to compete together with two other Paralympians from Australia and Ecuador who were also late, as they may have had the “logical reason for being late,” the International Paralympics Committee (IPC) spokesperson Craig Spence told the Associated Press.
Though the Malaysian ace Paralympian performed the best during the competition, he was classified as “DNS” or “Did not start” and his stats were voided because the IPC determined that there was no justifiable reason for Zolkefli to be late. The two other athletes who were late were also classified as “DNS.”
Spence said Zolkefli and two of his fellow athletes were late because they did not hear the announcement or it was in a language that they did not understand.
The World Para Athletes Jury of Appeal subsequently rejected the appeal of the athletes, citing its Rule 5.5-“Failure to Report to the Call Room,” which states “in case athletes are not present in the Call Room at the relevant time as published in the Call Room schedule, they will be shown in the results as DNS (did not start).”
With Zolkefli’s disqualification, the gold medal went to Maksym Koval of Ukraine, while silver and bronze were given to Ukraine’s Oleksandr Yarovyi and Greece’s Efstratios Nikolaidis respectively.
Zolkefli’s disqualification angered Malaysians, who felt their Paralympian was robbed of the gold medal.
This is a shameful decision. An absolute disgrace that goes against the spirit of the Paralympics. If it was a call room violation you should have not allowed them to compete in the first place. Mean spirited and petty. A stolen gold medal and world record.— Khairy Jamaluddin ??? (@Khairykj) August 31, 2021
Fahmi Fadzil, a member of the Malaysian Parliament, took to Twitter to express his dismay. “Absolutely disgraceful! You should not have allowed the athletes to compete if they were late. Don't steal this hard-earned, world record-breaking medal from Ziyad,” he wrote.
Malaysia’s Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin also weighed in and condemned the decision.
“This is a shameful decision. An absolute disgrace that goes against the spirit of the Paralympics,” tweeted Jamaluddin, who also described the situation as “mean spirited and petty.”
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In a palace statement, Malaysia's king Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah urged "the relevant authorities to study the reasons for the disqualification... so that it will not be repeated in the future. The widely revered monarch added he is "proud of (Ziyad's) achievements and performance.”
After the controversy, Zolkefli, a 2016 Rio Paralympic Games gold medalist, posted a message on Instagram, apologizing to his fellow Malaysians and thanking them for their support.
The F20 shot put category that Zolkefli participated in was for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Banner and thumbnail photo from www.paralympic.org