Malaysian shot putter Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli seemed to have clinched the gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics this week, but after his stunning victory he was disqualified for showing up three minutes late for the competition.
Despite showing up to the call room a little late, Zolkefli, along with Australia’s Todd Hodgetts and Ecuador’s Jordi Patricio Congo Villalba, were all still allowed to compete before the International Paralympic Committee ruled that they had been disqualified.
Fans vehemently attacked the Committee online, calling the ruling unfair and asking why the penalty was so severe.
Asking for a repeal, since his 17.94m shot put through for the gold medal set a new World Record, Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli was denied, even amid massive fan upheaval. The other two late competitors, Congo Villalba and Todd Hodgetts, were also removed from their 5th and 7th place standings, respectively, and ruled “Did Not Start (DNS).”
“They were late,” said International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence. “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.”
Following the conclusion of the shot-put finals, the Committee ruled, along with World Para Athletics, that, “there was no justifiable reason for the athletes’ failure to report.”
Runner-up Maksym Koval of Ukraine was then bumped up to Gold, with fellow countryman Oleksandr Yarovyi taking the silver.
Malaysian anger exploded on social media over Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli’s disqualification, which Spence described as “very abusive” and “ridiculous, in my view.”
According to the appeal submitted by Zolkefli and the other two disqualified athletes, they claimed that they either did not hear the announcement to report to the call room, or that it was in another language that they did not understand.
The F20 shot put class that the three competed in was designed for athletes for intellectual disabilities, such as neurodevelopment disorder and down syndrome.
“I’m sorry. Rules are rules,” Spence later said, adding that he didn’t think the penalty of stripping away the gold medal and the new world record for arriving three minutes late as harsh in any way. “Others get there five minutes early,” Spence stated.
Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli won the gold medal and set the current world record last Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016, and was returning in Tokyo to defend his title. His world record then of 16.84m would have been beaten by a whole 1.1m if his results in Tokyo were not ruled as disqualified.
“The counter protest will be brought forward tomorrow,” said Malaysian radio station HITZ. “No matter what happens, Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli is still a champion to us and broke two world records in our eyes.”
“Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli won on the FIELD fair and square while smashing TWO world records,” argued a Malaysian commenter, “Meanwhile, Ukraine decided to protest for something that happened OFF the field. Zero sportsmanship.”
Paralympic Spokesman Spence said a lot of hate online has been directed at the Ukrainian players who were bumped up after the ruling, but that it isn’t their fault. “The decision was taken,” he reiterated. “It wasn’t the Ukrainians’ fault that the Malaysian was late.”
Malaysia’s Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin condemned the “shameful decision,” according to Malay Mail, calling it “an absolute disgrace that goes against the spirit of the Paralympics.”
Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the Supreme Head of Malaysian and constitutional monarch, stated that he hoped authorities would be able to review the matter without prejudice so that such an event would never happen again.
Posting a short message on his Instagram, Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli thanked his fans for their support, and said that he was coming home.