Malaysian athlete Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli posted a heartbreaking apology on Instagram today after he was disqualified from receiving what could have been Malaysia’s second gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
The 31-year-old had hurled the shot put to a distance of 17.94 meters on his third attempt, qualifying him for a gold medal. But the World Para Athletics, or WPA, decided to rob him of that opportunity because he was late to the call room, sparking a public uproar in Malaysia.
“I apologize to all Malaysians,” Ziyad wrote online today. “Thank you for your support.”
Ukraine’s Maksym Koval, who threw the shot put to a distance of 17.34 meters was awarded gold instead. According to the sporting rules, athletes who do not turn up to the call room on time will not be allowed to compete.
In its statement today, WPA said that Ziyad as well as two other athletes from Ecuador and Australia did not turn up at the call room on time but were still allowed to “compete under protest” while the referee evaluated evidence as to why the athletes were late. The referee later found that “there was no justifiable reason for the athletes’ failure to report to the call room on time.” The jury of appeal later upheld the referee’s stand and declared the athletes’ results as “Did Not Start,” which is as good as the athletes not competing at all.
Ziyad was a gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Yesterday, Ziyad even broke his previous record of 17.29m that he set at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships in London.
Among the thousands who showed support for Ziyad were former badminton player Lee Chong Wei.
“It’s OK, Ziyad,” Lee wrote. “Everyone knows that you set this year’s new world record. You can set another record in Paris three years later. You [are] already our hero.”
Olympic diver Nur Dhabitah Sabri chimed in, saying: “You don’t need to apologize, you’re the greatest. Everyone is very proud of you.”
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