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‘He will remain a champion’: Ukrainian ambassador tries to calm outrage after athlete loses gold... because he was 3 minutes late

‘He will remain a champion’: Ukrainian ambassador tries to calm outrage after athlete loses gold... because he was 3 minutes late
A Ukrainian ambassador has stepped in to an international row by hailing an athlete who was beaten to gold by one of his country's Paralympic stars – because he was three minutes late to a roll call.

Paralympic bosses were accused of cruelty after Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli, a Malaysian shot putter, broke the world record before being stripped of his gold medal because he did not report to the call room on time.

Two fellow athletes from Australia and Ecuador suffered the same fate, with Zolkefli's agonizing belated removal allowing Ukraine's Maksym Koval to be re-awarded gold, with compatriot Oleksandr Yarovyi succeeding him to silver.

As social media swelled with support for Zolkefli and widespread rage at his near-miss, Olexander Nechytaylo, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Malaysia, appeared to acknowledge that the decision had been unfair.

"I congratulate Ziyad Zolkefli for the remarkable performance, breaking the world record in shot put F20," said Nechytaylo, showing a strong sense of diplomacy in his response.

"He will, indeed, remain a true champion in the hearts of many – not just Malaysians.

"There are some fair questions for the Organising Committee, whose slack attitude created the grounds for the controversy in the first place.

"These questions have to be addressed in a swift and transparent manner to preserve the Olympic spirit of the Games."

Organizers said that Zolkefli had been allowed to compete 'under protest' while the referee assessed whether there was a reason that would be deemed valid for his lateness.

"Rules are rules – the decision was taken and it wasn't the Ukrainian's fault," International Paralympic Committee (IPC) spokesman Craig Spence told CNN. "The Malaysian was late to the call room."

The two Ukrainian athletes complained about the timekeeping mishap before the embassy's Facebook page was inundated with furious messages, according to the Mirror.

"If he is late, he should be denied the right to compete," said one observer. "If he competed, he shouldn't be stripped of the award."

"I can't believe this organization is that stupid to disqualify him," boggled another. "Bloody robbed."

Zolkefli broke the Paralympic world record he had set earlier in the competition with a 17.93m throw as he pursued a second successive Olympic gold.

Asked about the social media response, Spence described the comments as "very abusive" and "ridiculous, in my view."

"I mean, yes – you can be unhappy with the decision. But what I now see is comments on all our social media posts which have nothing to do with the men's shot put F20 event," Spence said.

"Really disappointing that such abuse happens on social media."

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