PARSIPPANY, N.J. – The National Sports Committee of Disabled People of Ukraine has come under attack on social media by Malaysian citizens after a controversial ruling stripped Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli of Malaysia of his gold medal in the F20 shot put for a technical violation of Zolkefli being three minutes late to pre-competition first call room at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. Zolkefli’s throw of 17.94 meters was disqualified after the conclusion of the investigation by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
The gold medal was awarded to Maksym Koval, who originally earned a silver medal, and Oleksandr Yarovy of Ukraine, who won bronze originally and was subsequently awarded the silver medal. Efstratios Nikolaidis of Greece was awarded the bronze medal after originally finishing in fourth place. Koval set a new world record with a distance of 17.34 meters.
“A massive attack addressed to Ukrainian Paralympics athletes was carried out on the page of the National Paralympic Committee of Ukraine on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, on the Equalympic TV channel, as well as on the page of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine, by citizens of Malaysia with a very large number of insults towards Ukraine, Ukrainian citizens, national Paralympic team in connection with the just protest that Ukraine has filed against all athletes – shot putters (F20) who did not get into the first call room on August 31, at the athletics competition,” the National Sports Committee of Disabled People of Ukraine said in a statement.
World Para Athletics (WPA) rules state that if an athlete is late for the first call room at the set time, the athlete should not be allowed to compete. Also, an athlete can be allowed to start under protest, but after an investigation, the technical delegate makes a decision to disqualify the athlete with his or her result, or the result can be recorded as official.
The WPA in its ruling addressed the issue.
“The three athletes from Australia [Todd Hodgetts], Ecuador [Jordi Patricio Congo Villalba] and Malaysia [Zolkefli] who competed in the men’s shot put F20 final under protest had their appeal rejected by the World Para Athletics Jury of Appeal. The decision was based on World Para Athletics Rule 5.5 – ‘Failure to Report to the Call Room,’ which states that in case athletes are not present in the call room at the relevant time as published in the call room schedule they will be shown in the results as DNS (Did Not Start). In accordance with this rule, the athletes were allowed to compete under protest while the referee considered all the evidence as to why the athletes were late to the call room. Having considered the evidence, the referee determined that there was no justifiable reason for the athletes’ failure to report to the call room on time. The athletes appealed this decision to the Jury of Appeal, who gave the teams the opportunity to present all the relevant information before making its final decision. The Jury of Appeal upheld the referee’s decision and confirmed the athletes’ results as DNS.”
Many of the comments left on social media pages were not related to the controversial ruling, but focused on belittling Ukraine. Craig Spence, spokesperson for the IPC, noted that many of the attacks targeted Ukraine, and not the IPC’s decision. Mr. Spence said the reasons for the failure of the trio of athletes to arrive on time was that they “either didn’t hear the announcement or it was in a language they couldn’t understand.”
“People said the Ukrainian stole the gold. No, absolutely not. The Ukrainian had nothing to do with it. It was the athletes that were late,” Mr. Spence said, adding that the attacks on social media were “abusive” and “ridiculous.”
Natalia Garach, head of the press service of the National Committee for Sports of Disabled People of Ukraine, also addressed the issue.
“On the page of the National Paralympic Committee of Ukraine on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, on the Equalympic TV channel, as well as on the page of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine and on Ukrainian Para athletes, a massive attack was committed by citizens of Malaysia with a very large number of insults towards Ukraine, Ukrainian citizens and the national Paralympic team,” Ms. Garach said.
“According to paragraph 5.5 of the Athletics Rules, if an athlete is late for the first call at the set time, he must not be allowed to compete. Either the athlete is allowed to start under protest, but after the investigation, the technical delegate decides to disqualify the athlete with his result, or this result is recorded as official,” Ms. Garach said.
“Ukraine, together with Greece, filed a protest at once against three athletes from the teams of Malaysia, Ecuador and Australia, who did not get to the first call room in time, even before the competition – before the start of the shot put. All athletes who were protesting were warned that they would all be protesting. A decision on the protest will be made later. After the end of the type of program, the technical delegate announced the official results of the competition, where the results of the protested athletes were canceled,” Ms. Garach said.
“Ukraine did everything according to the rules of athletics. We are offended to receive a flurry of negativity from Malaysia for actions that we did not commit. We appeal to the IPC with a request to pay attention to this egregious incident and qualify it as a sign of unsportsmanlike behavior of a country participating in the Paralympics 2020,” Ms. Garach said.