A Malaysian Paralympic shot putter has been stripped of his gold medal and world record for turning up three minutes late to his event.
And now, the bizarre incident has ignited an international row.
Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli won gold in the F20 class final on Tuesday but the two Ukrainian athletes who finished in the silver and bronze positions, Maksym Koval and Oleksandr Yarovyi, complained that the Malaysian and two others turned up late.
The three athletes were allowed to compete under protest, with Ziyad breaking his own Paralympic world record with a 17.93m throw. However, he later found out he was to be denied a second successive Paralympic gold as he, Ecuador’s Jordi Patricio Congo Villalba, and Australia’s Todd Hodgetts were being disqualified.
A subsequent appeal by Ziyad’s team was rejected, with Koval being upgraded to gold, Yarovyi silver, and Greece’s Efstratios Nikolaidis bronze.
The news didn’t go down well in Malaysia, with residents bombarding the Ukrainian Embassy for Malaysia’s Facebook page demanding for the gold to be handed over to Ziyad – while Koval and Yarovyi were relentlessly labelled “cheats.”
The Facebook page was promptly deleted, and the Ukrainian Ambassador to Malaysia, Olexander Nechytaylo, took to social media to try and calm the frenzy: “Alongside with many Malaysian friends I am closely following Tokyo 2020: The Paralympics, celebrating the victory of every para-athlete and saluting their unbreakable will and determination.
“I congratulate #ZiyadZolkefli with the remarkable performance, breaking the world record in shot put F20. He will indeed remain a true Champion in the hearts of many, not just Malaysians.
“There are some fair questions to the Organising Committee, whose slack attitude created the grounds for the controversy in the first place. These questions have to be addressed in a swift and transparent manner to preserve the Olympic spirit of the Games.”
AFP via Getty Images)
However, World Para Athletics doubled down on the decision, saying a referee had determined that “there was no justifiable reason for the athletes failure to report on time.”
And International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence said the rules has to be adhered to.
“I’m sorry. Rules are rules. The decision was taken. It wasn’t the Ukrainians fault that the Malaysian was late.”
The F20 class in shot putt is for athletes with intellectual disabilities, but Spence added the excuses given by the three athletes, that they didn’t hear the announcement or could not understand the language, wasn’t sufficient.