Paralympian Breaks World Record, But Denied Gold for Showing Up Late

September 2, 2021 Off By Hanako Montgomery

A Malaysian shot putter who broke his own world record and was poised to win gold has been disqualified for running a few minutes late to his final event, a shocking turn of fortune that ignited outrage back home.

Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli, 31, was one of three athletes who showed up late to the final event for the sport’s F20 class—for Paralympians with intellectual disabilities—on Tuesday. Though initially still allowed to compete, the athletes were disqualified the following day. 

World Para Athletics, the governing body of Para track and field sports, said in a statement that a referee determined “no justifiable reason for the athletes’ failure to report to the Call Room on time,” referring to the place where athletes gather before their competition. International Paralympic Committee spokesperson Craig Spence said the athletes argued they couldn’t hear the announcements, or that it was in a language they couldn’t understand, according to the Associated Press.

Malaysian leaders and citizens rallied to the athletes’ defense and rebuked the decision. The country’s king said in a statement that he was proud of Ziyad’s achievements and performance, but wanted “the relevant parties to refine the reason for the cancellation of Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli’s victory so that it will not be repeated in the future.” The monarch also urged Ziyad to continue pursuing his sport and not lose heart. 

Pictures of a smiling Ziyad holding up his country’s flag circulated widely on social media in Malaysia. Ziyad himself addressed the national outrage on Instagram. Writing in Malay, he thanked his supporters and also apologized for letting them down. 

Malaysia’s minister of health said on his Twitter that the World Para Athletics’ call was a “shameful decision” and “an absolute disgrace that goes against the spirit of the Paralympics.” He said the athletes should not have been allowed to compete in the first place if it were a call room violation.

The gold medal went to Ukraine’s Maksym Kova, whose teammate Oleksandr Yarovyi won silver. 

Following an outpouring of condemnation over Ziyad’s disqualification, Paralympic spokesperson Spence said the Ukrainian Paralympic committee “was getting a lot of abuse from Malaysians,” according to newswire AFP.

“There’s been a massive outpouring of emotion from many Malaysians on social media. Very abusive. Ridiculous, in my view," Spence was quoted as saying. The spokesperson said that the Ukrainian athletes had not stolen gold from Ziyad. 

The Paralympic Games end on Sunday. 

Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.