Tokyo Paralympian stripped of gold medal for arriving 3 minutes late: 'Rules are rules'

Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli thought he had won gold at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. His home country of Malaysia thought he had, too. 

That was until a referee disqualified him from the event for arriving three minutes late. The International Paralympics Committee (IPC) defended the decision, which has drawn scorn on social media. 

Zolkefli competed in the shot put in the F20 classification for intellectual impairment. He was three minutes late to the event but was allowed to compete because he had a "logical" reason for being late, an IPC spokesman said via CNN.

A referee later determined he had no "justifiable reason" and stripped him of the medal. 

Ukranian Maksym Koval was bumped from silver into gold after the disqualification. Teammate Oleksandr Yarovyi placed second and Efstratios Niolaidis of Greece bumped up to the medal stand. 

Malaysia's Youth and Sports Minister Ahmad Faizul Azumu said the country's National Sports Council will investigate and that he is "disappointed" in the decision, per local outlets.

"The athletes have waited for five years but their hopes and spirits were destroyed by a delay of not even five minutes … this is something which is very sad," he said, via BBC News. 

Zolkefli won the nation's first Paralympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic games. 

World Para Athletics explains disqualification 

World Para Athletics, the governing body for track and field, explained the situation in a statement and it appeared to also impact athletes from Australia and Ecuador. 

The organization said the appeals by the three were thrown out based on the "Failure to Report to the Call Room" rule. It requires athletes to be present in the call room before their event at the time published on the schedule. If they are not present at the required time, they will be listed as DNS (did not start). 

The three were able to compete under protest per rule. The evidence was later reviewed and they were found to have not reported on time, per World Para Athletics. 

Reports point finger to instigators 

A Malaysian media outlet cited by BBC News reported that Ukraine lodged a protest saying Zolkefli was late to the call room before the event had started. 

IPC spokesman Craig Spence said there were "very abusive" comments toward the Ukrainians based on reports they instigated the disqualification. 

"I'm sorry. Rules are rules. The decision was taken. It wasn't the Ukrainians' fault that the Malaysian was late," he said, via the Associated Press. 

He said the three who were late either did not hear the announcement or "it was in a language" they did not understand. 

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