It seems like just yesterday that we were watching the Rio Olympics; but Brazil is now hosting the Paralympics from Sept 7 to 18. In Malaysia, there is a stark contrast between the two events in terms of coverage, excitement and support.
Alarmingly, not many people even seem to be aware of the Paralympics due to scant coverage by our media and government.
What does that show about us as a nation? Our indifference and apathetic ignorance is lamentable, as our extraordinary athletes are not getting the adequate attention they deserve.
As a nation, we rallied together and cheered for the fantastic performances from our able bodied athletes. In badminton, there was enormous support for Datuk Lee Chong Wei.
When he won the semi final against Lin Dan, many of us shed tears of joy and relief. When he lost at the finals against Chen Long, we shed tears of grief. For his pain was the nation’s pain too. Lee did what no politician has succeeded in doing for a very long time – he united the nation. And we are grateful and indebted to him.
The men’s doubles and the mixed doubles teams also made us beam in pride. Three silver medals from badminton alone.
Cheong Jun Hoong and Pandelela Rinong were also monumental in uniting us when they won a silver medal in the women’s 10 m platform synchronised diving.
And in cycling, the “Pocket Rocket”, as he is affectionately known, Azizulhasni Awang, won a bronze medal at the keirin event and made us jubilant.
It was our best Olympic medal haul ever – four silvers and one bronze. There was enormous coverage of the above events in Rio; and all athletes received a hero’s welcome when they came back, together with numerous rewards and incentives, both monetary and otherwise.
It is pathetic to see that in comparison, there has been very scant, in fact negligible coverage of the Paralympics.
Why is this the case ? It is not that we do not have local talent. The Malaysian contingent at Rio comprIses of 21 athletes (19 men and two women) who will compete in eight out of 23 events.
So why aren’t we cheering loudly ? This is an appalling state of affairs; because we have a world class sprinter in Mohd Ridzuan Mohd Puzi, who is ranked fourth in the world, and who has already won us gold medals at the IPC Athletic Games in Singapore. In Doha 2016, he won a gold medal; clocking a personal best of 11.18 seconds in the men’s 100m event (T36 category).
His victory is all the more amazing as he is afflicted with cerebral palsy. The video of him obtaining his gold medal went viral and it was a proud moment indeed when the Jalur Gemilang was raised.
His happiness at bringing glory for Malaysia was touchingly evident. Yet how many Malaysians actually know about him?
Another unsung Malaysian hero is 19 year old Abdul Latif Romly, an outstanding athlete who leapt 7.35m for a new meet record in Doha IPC 2016. There is also shot putter Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli, who is currently ranked fifth in the world, and long jumper Siti Noor Radiah, ranked fourth in the world.
These individuals have a good chance of bringing home medals for Malaysia, but are we giving them the hope, faith and inspiration that we gave aplenty for our able bodied athletes?
As a nation, we were truly united during the Rio Olympics We posted on FB, tweeted on Twitter, advertised in newspapers, radio, television and so on to show our support. We gathered in thousands in public places such as Dataran Merdeka, Putrajaya, and coffee shops. But are we ready to do the same again for our disabled athletes?
On Sep 9, when Mohamed Puzi runs his 100m race, let us watch and roar our support for him. For in him, we have another chance at that elusive gold medal.
Let us rally together and cheer for Team Malaysia Paralympians in Rio.
Let us continue in the spirit of Merdeka; patriotism and “Malaysia Boleh !”
Let us give these unsung heroes the support, applause and admiration they so clearly deserve.