Honour may not win power, but it wins respect. And respect earns power.– Ishida Mitsunari, samurai and military commander
I was beyond the moon when Ziyad Zolkefli threw the shot put to a Paralympics world record of 17.94m in the Tokyo Games on August 31.
Considering that Ziyad is an athlete with intellectual impairment, it means his effort was a herculean achievement.
Minutes later I heard on RTM that he had been disqualified because he was classified as a “did not start” participant!
But how could it be?
As an athlete and former Sarawak under-19 state shot putter champion in 1969, my understanding is that if the supervisor allowed Ziyad to compete in the event then he should not have been disqualified.
How could the supervisor allow Ziyad to make three winning throws, only to reverse the decision on the grounds that he was participating as a “disqualified” athlete?
It doesn’t make sense!
I watched the event closely and marvelled at the fact that Ziyad used the old method of a “standing throw” as opposed to the existing more effective discus technique.
Ziyad’s throw was almost four metres further than Datuk Nashatar Singh Sidhu’s record-breaking throw of 14.09m in the 1967 SEA Games for the gold.
After the decision to throw out Malaysia’s appeal by Craig Spence of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), our officials started looking for scapegoats!
One newspaper said Ziyad, who was accompanied by his trainer, was 28 minutes late, but Spence had earlier told Bernama he was three minutes late! And he said the other participants arrived five minutes earlier.
Our own chef de mission said that Ziyad had arrived on time when athletes were entering the room to be registered, but he was stopped at the gate immediately after two other athletes were allowed to enter the premises.
It was the sporting British who introduced the Paralympics in 1948 in London after World War II.
Called the Summer Olympics, the Games enabled injured servicemen and women to participate in various competitions.
It was only 12 years later in 1960 that the Paralympics and Olympics was formalised in Rome, launching the first official international Paralympics.
This was a noble effort to provide a platform for athletes with disabilities and impairments to showcase their talents.
As a result, the Atlanta Games was held in USA in 1996.
But in the following 2000 Sydney Paralympics, a reporter uncovered a scandal which rocked the Games to the core.
The Spanish entered about a dozen basketball players for the intellectually impaired event but they were found to be normal.
Disgraced, Spain had to return their medals.
It was a massive blow to the credibility of the system for testing and classifying athletes.
The IPC subsequently suspended all sports classes involving intellectual disability in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens and Beijing in 2008.
When the Paralympic committee temporarily removed all events involving intellectual disability, scores of athletes were deprived of the chance to compete among themselves.
IPC ruled that the regulations had to be amended due to the lack of flexibility and some “callous and dispassionate” decisions.
In 2009, IPC devised a “new” system for verifying and classifying intellectual disability.
Four years on in 2012, events for the intellectually impaired was re-introduced in the London Paralympics.
Born in 1990, Ziyad’s disability was detected when he was still a child but he went on to study at a technical college in Kelantan where he discovered his athletic talents.
At the age of 22, he won his first medal, a bronze, at the 2012 Paralympics in London.
Ziyad went on to win gold medals in the Asian Para Games in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018.
Ziyad even took part in the 2017 and 2019 SEA Games, winning a bronze and silver medal at the 2019 SEA Games and a bronze in 2017, competing against normal athletes.
Now that the dust has settled, the least we can do for this former cook and kuey teow (a rice noodle) stall owner, is to find out the truth behind this embarrassing Tokyo fiasco.
Our officials, who fumbled when they registered Ziyad late, must be brave enough to take the blame and not just turn a blind eye.
I’m sure there was some misunderstanding — Ziyad and his trainer thought that the former had not been disqualified since he had been allowed to start together with the others.
Spence said an announcement was made in English which Ziyad was not familiar with.
I seem to think the complaint was made as an afterthought, after Ziyad had out-thrown both the Ukrainian athletes who were trailing behind.
To me it smacks of a conspiracy!
It was a cruel blow for Ziyad, not because of the RM1-million prize money that eluded him, but more so because he had conducted himself well.
I hope the people responsible for the debacle conduct themselves in true Japanese Samurai Bushido spirit and not pass the buck.
Now that the dust has settled, I hope our government does not support the guilty parties and sweep the issue under the carpet because this is a question of dignity.
We have defaulted in the past, particularly in recent politics, but let’s make amends in the name of justice and true sportsmanship.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.