Malaysian shot putter Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli, the 2016 Paralympic champion, was disqualified after claiming gold again in the men's F20 class on Wednesday at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
A spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee said that Zolkefli, along with two other athletes, were three minutes late in reporting to the competition. But instead of being immediately disqualified, they 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,” Craig Spence, the IPC spokesman, told the Associated Press. The athletes said they either didn't hear the announcement or that it was in a language they didn't understand, according to the AP.
After the event, a referee determined that "there was no justifiable reason for the athletes' failure to report on time," and an appeal was denied, World Para Athletics said in a statement. "Others get there five minutes early,” Spence said.
A pair of Ukrainian athletes, Maksym Koval and Oleksandr Yarovyi, wound up with the gold and silver medals, respectively. Greece's Efstratios Nikolaidis took the bronze. Athletes competing in the F20 class have an intellectual impairment.
“I’m sorry. Rules are rules,” Spence added. “The decision was taken. It wasn’t the Ukrainians fault that the Malaysian was late.”
The result has led to a "very abusive" uproar on social media, with much of it directed towards the Ukrainians, according to Spence. "We are now seeing comments on all our social media posts that have nothing to do with the men’s shot put F20 event,” Spence said.
The AP said it attempted to contact the Malaysian Paralympic Council by email on Wednesday, but did not get an immediate response.