Ziyad Zolkefli at 2020 Paralympics

Malaysian athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics have been bringing top-notch performances to the world stage. Our Paralympic medal tally is now at two medals – a gold and silver, both in powerlifting.

Malaysia had been set to clinch another gold medal on Tuesday, 31st August 2021, when Paralympian Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli competed in the shot put event and broke a world record. However, he was disqualified on technical grounds after his stunning performance – a decision Malaysia appealed but was rejected by the World Para Athletics (WPA).

Three athletes, including Ziyad, disqualified from event

Many in Malaysia were jubilant after learning of Ziyad’s gold medal victory at the 2020 Paralympics. But just hours after the celebrations, he was disqualified from the men’s shot put (F20) final event, missing out on the chance to defend his gold medal win at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

According to a report by Bernama on 31st August, his victory was contested by the Ukraine camp, who claimed Ziyad showed up late to the roll call area prior to the shot put event.

Despite showing off a world-class performance in the final event – and setting a world record with a throw of 17.94m – Ziyad’s performance was erased after he was classified as “did not start” (DNS).

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic’s official site shows Maksym Koval, from Ukraine, placing first in the men’s shot put (F20) final, with a throw of 17.34m. Oleksandr Yarovoi from Ukraine claimed the silver medal, while Efstratios Nikolaidis from Greece took home the bronze medal.

Ziyad Zolkefli disqualified at Tokyo 2020 Paralympics 1
Image credit: @ziyadzolkefli

Along with Ziyad, Australian athlete Todd Hodgetts and Ecuadorian athlete Jordi Patricio Congo Villalba were also disqualified by the Tokyo Paralympics technical committee on the same alleged grounds. All three were listed as DNS in the event.

Malaysian Chef de mission, Datuk Seri Megat D Shahriman Zharudin, had countered the committee’s decision to list Ziyad’s performance as DNS during the event. The Australian and Ecuador camps also protested the decision for their respective athletes. But all were unsuccessful.

Malaysia’s appeal for Ziyad rejected

On Wednesday, 1st September, Malaysia submitted an appeal to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and WPA. However, the decision to disqualify Ziyad stands after the appeal was rejected by the World Para Athletics Jury of Appeal, as shared in an official statement by the World Para Athletics. 

The grounds for disqualification for the three athletes is based on WPA Rule 5.5 – “Failure to Report to the Call Room” – which lists athletes as DNS if they did not show up at the Call Room “on relevant time as published in the Call Room schedule”.

On why the athletes were allowed to compete in spite of their breach of rules, World Para Athletics said in the statement that the decision was being considered by the referee at the time. Following a meeting with the teams who protested the decision, the three athletes were confirmed to be disqualified from the event by the WPA Jury of Appeal, siding with the referee.

Malaysians defend Ziyad at Paralympics

Many Malaysians cheering on Ziyad at the Paralympics have voiced their dissatisfaction with the disqualification through their social media accounts. This includes the comment section of several posts on Paralympic Games’ verified Facebook page, with less than happy responses left behind by netizens.

On Twitter, Ziyad’s name is currently trending with over 350,000 tweets at the time of writing, with many sharing that they are proud of him regardless of what had happened.

Ziyad Zolkefli disqualified at Tokyo 2020 Paralympics - Prime Minister
Image credit: Ismail Sabri Yaakob

Several politicians also joined the heated discussions during Malaysia’s National Day. This included Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who cheered Ziyad on and used the hashtags #letlogicprevail and #justiceforziyad on a Facebook post on his verified page.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin took to his verified Twitter account to defend Ziyad in a response to a tweet by the Paralympic Games too, saying: “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.”

Former youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim also shared their dissatisfaction over the decision on their Twitter accounts.

Fellow national athletes joined in on the support for Ziyad too, with Olympian Pandelela Rinong, for one, tweeting, “Anything can happen in sport, but this one so far the most shocking and made me speechless. #staystrongZiyad”.

Ziyad Zolkefli disqualified at Tokyo 2020 Paralympics - apology
Image credit: @ziyadzolkefli

Following the public outcry, Ziyad went on his official Instagram account to address Malaysians. In the short post, he humbly apologised, saying, “I ask all Malaysians for forgiveness. Thank you for supporting me.”

Ziyad misses out medal at 2020 Paralympics, but wins Malaysians’ hearts

It’s not easy to lose out on a medal after a stunning performance, as Ziyad did during the men’s shot put finals in the F20 category at the 2020 Paralympic Games.

While he may have been disqualified from the event and was unable to bring home a medal, we remain proud of his achievements and look forward to cheering him on at future tournaments.

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Cover image adapted from: @ziyadzolkefli and @ziyadzolkefli

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