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Malaysians are raging after shot-putter Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli was stripped of his gold medal at the Paralympics for showing up to his event late.
Zolkefli appeared to have won gold in the F20 class on Tuesday, but was later disqualified because he had shown up late by mere minutes.
Australia's Todd Hodgetts and Ecuadorian athlete Jordi Patricio Congo Villalba were also disqualified by officials who said they had no good reason for their late arrival at the call room.
International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence said Zolkefli and the two others - who did not make the podium - were allowed to compete under protest.
“They were late, they may have had a logical reason for being late, and therefore we allowed them to compete and look at the facts of the matter afterward," Spence said.
A statement from World Para Athletics said a referee had determined after the event that “there was no justifiable reason for the athletes' failure to report” on time and that an appeal had been turned down.
The disqualification bumped Maksym Koval of Ukraine to the gold medal position, while Ukraine teammate Oleksandr Yarovyi took silver and Efstratios Nikolaidis of Greece bronze.
According to reports, the Ukrainian team lodged the official complaint against Zolkefli.
Spence said the Ukrainian athletes were “getting a lot of abuse from Malaysians”.
“People say the Ukrainian stole the gold. No, absolutely not. The Ukrainian had nothing to do with it. It was the athletes that were late,” Spence said.
“There’s been a massive outpouring of emotion of many Malaysians on social media. Very abusive. Ridiculous, in my view.”
He said the latecomers had argued they had not heard the announcement to gather or that it was in a language they did not understand - but he noted the other athletes had managed to get there on time.
Spence said the three athletes had arrived three minutes late, saying he did not see the disqualification as a harsh penalty.
Malaysia rages over 'shameful' drama at Paralympics
However Malaysian officials and fans clearly disagree, with the country's Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin slamming the “shameful decision”.
“An absolute disgrace that goes against the spirit of the Paralympics,” he tweeted.
“Mean spirited and petty. A stolen gold medal and world record.”
Malaysian king Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah urged “the relevant authorities to study the reasons for the disqualification … so that it will not be repeated in the future."
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.
— Khairy Jamaluddin 🇲🇾🌺 (@Khairykj) August 31, 2021
Shameful and disappointing decision. Why would you allowed Ziyad to participate after the alleged call room violation?
This is unacceptable. https://t.co/vngfgiS8X6
— Syed Saddiq (@SyedSaddiq) August 31, 2021
— 로제 (@nraliahamira) September 1, 2021
couldve made the protest before the game even started. but no, they protested after the results were out. zolkefli robbed. he doesnt deserve this. yall are a disgrace. https://t.co/q7f3KUuMkt
— nat (@natospurs) August 31, 2021
Utter disgrace and daylight robbery of a gold medal winner and world record breaker Ziyad Zolkefli in Shot Put F20 @Tokyo2020. If he was disqualified for being late at the call room, the organizer should have not allowed him to compete in the first place. He won it fair & square!
— Pak Epi (@Ibrafi) August 31, 2021
Zolkefli has since apologised and thanked fans for their support.
“I apologise to all Malaysians, thank you for supporting me,” he wrote on social media.
“I will rise again. Thank you for your words of encouragement.”
The F20 category in shot put is for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
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