Ziyad's tragedy of minutes

SEPTEMBER 4 ― The recent unfortunate incident of the gold medal withdrawal of Muhammad Ziyad Zolkepli is a sad case study of how, when all is said and done, rules are rules and that’s the way it is.

Call Room punctuality is very important in an international competition, especially at the Olympics. This is the last stage where the athletes are inspected for all compliances before walking through the door and being introduced.

I picture something like that “tunnel” where the two football teams gather just before sprinting on to the pitch. Now imagine if the Devils kept Liverpool waiting because de Gea was late.

In that shot put competition, three competitors were late. The late competitors were still allowed to compete “under protest” while the Call Room judges deliberated.

After the event, one of the other competitors (from Ukraine) lodged a formal complaint and, subsequently, Ziyad was disqualified on account of his lateness. Malaysia appealed, of course, but the Appeal Committee threw out the appeal on the grounds that there was no good reason to be late, not on the triviality of being late

The Australian athlete was late by two minutes but Ziyad, alas, was late by three minutes.

There’s no excuse for being late since all athletes have non-OKU coaches and managers accompanying them. Ziyad didn't just take a bus on his own.

At the appeal, the Malaysian manager gave one of the reasons for Zayid being late was that they could not understand the language used in the announcements. 

This was quickly shot down as the other competitors also heard the same announcements; not understanding the announcement because it was in a different language does not fly.

Some have argued that since the referee allowed Ziyad to participate (despite being late), this suggests the referee concluded the opposite of what the Committee did i.e. that the referee felt the rules weren’t air-tight or else why let a late Ziyad compete?

However, and sadly, this doesn’t hold water. When an athlete comes late to the Call Room, he would be asked to provide his reason(s). Each reason would take time to be investigated. The latecomers were not stopped from competing in case the reason(s) was found to be valid, hence “under protest.” That's the protocol.

The referee allowing Ziyad to compete has no bearing on the final decision to withdraw his medals.

National paralympic shot putter Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli competes in the F20 shot put event (learning difficulties category) at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium, August 31, 2021. — Bernama pic
National paralympic shot putter Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli competes in the F20 shot put event (learning difficulties category) at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium, August 31, 2021. — Bernama pic

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No matter how “silly” we think these rules are, when push comes to shove, there’s no way around it. If the International Paralympic Committee does NOT maintain the firm standard of disqualifying participants for lateness then the whole rule may as well be thrown out.

For better or worse, Olympic rules aren’t like Premier League rules where a referee can disallow a penalty call and show a yellow card to the “diving” striker on a Thursday night game and refuse to bring out a card during the weekend.

Olympic rules are more like Covid-19 SOP penalties: If someone is fined RM1,000 for not wearing a mask in a shop, another guy not wearing a mask in the same shop should also be fined the same.

In Ziyad’s case, he was late by three minutes for no justifiable reason (like the transportation being involved in a pile-up). This means he was late, period. Which means his medal should be withdrawn.

I hate this as much as any Malaysian but I can’t deny it’s a fact (even as I secretly wish the Committee would have looked the other way).

I only hope that Ziyad’s team manager and coach have learned this very tough lesson as well: That minutes matter.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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