For a short while, the spotlight was on our Paralympians in Rio. Before they went to Rio, our Paralympian athletes were not really well known.
There was scant media coverage of them despite their past triumphs in previous international sporting venues (Mohd Ridzuan Mohd Puzi and long jumper Abdul Latif Romly had already won gold for Malaysia at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha in 2015). It was only when they achieved glory in Rio (3 gold medals and 1 bronze), that the nation truly saluted them.
Suddenly, and overnight, they (Mohd Ridzuan Mohd Puzi; Abdul Latif Romly; Muhd Ziyad Zolkefli and Siti Radiah)) became household names.
When they returned, they were given a heroes’ welcome. Whilst I fully support this, and was thrilled for them, the point is this – shouldn’t we have acknowledged them before ? And would we have done so if they had not won any medals?
Have many Malaysians have even heard of powerlifter Siow Lee Chan, who in 2008, was both Malaysia’s first female Paralympic medallist, and the first Malaysian in sixteen years to have won a Paralympic medal?
Or Perummal Mariappan who won bronze medals twice for weightlifiting, in the 1988 Seoul Paralympics and then again in 1992 in Barcelona ? What incentives or accolades were these outstanding athletes given in the past ? It is indeed a tragedy that they did not get the attention they deserved and simply faded into obscurity.
Is this attitude right? It is as though we only want to acknowledge our athletes when they are successful in bringing home the medals.
Should we only shower praises when one is famous in an international arena and has won a medal?
Winning a medal is the end of a long road of determination, pain, struggle and enormous discipline. Where was the support for these athletes in the run up to the Paralympics? It is lamentable that there was very little support for them from both the government and private sector.
And what about those athletes that took part in the Rio Paralympics but did not win a medal? There appears to be no media coverage of them. Why are they being ignored? Aren’t their achievements also something we should be also proud of?
All of our four medals came from athletics events ( (Mens’ 100m; Mens’ shot put; Mens’ long jump; womens’ long jump) but do many Malaysians even know that we also qualified for other events such as archery, cycling, sailing, wheelchair tennis and swimming ?
So who are the unsung heroes in these categories? Or do they have to win a medal first before we even notice them ? Which brings us back to square one : if we don’t notice them, how then do we give them the support and training that they require?
Yet another pertinent question is this : how much funds were actually spent on assisting these athletes with training, coaching, and the provision of suitable sports facilities and the necessary infrastructure?
It is all very fine for our politicians to wait at the KLIA airport upon their return to take pictures and ride on their mantels of glory, but how much have these politicians actually done to help them to achieve this success?
I refer to an interesting article on this topic in The Sun by R.Nadeswaran entitled “In glory, past is not forgotten nor forgiven” where the writer stated that : “something sinister and illegal should not go unnoticed … these Paralympians were hindered by the lack of funds for their training. Not small money but RM 3.8 million which was allocated for their needs”.
The writer then went on to highlight that there are still no answers till now about the missing funds and alleged scandal involving the past president of the Paralympics Association of Malaysia.
Subsequent investigations have not been fruitful and the Sports Ministry seems to have turned a deaf ear to this. The end result is that the millions of funds remain unaccounted for. So who are the victims ? They are none other than the disabled athletes who were supposed to be the deserving beneficiaries of the funds.
And now that the Paralympics is over, what are we going to do ? Allow our athletes to fade into obscurity again? It is all well and good to say that we will be giving incentives for the medals that they won, equal to those given to able bodied athletes, but what about the more crucial issue of long term planning for sports ?
Funding, training, coaching, spotting new talent, encouraging, motivating and assisting sporting talents to reach new heights in the future ? What is being done about these goals? Or are we going to wait another four years to 2020 for the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo before we discuss this issue again?
As a society that aims to be more pluralistic, inclusive and compassionate, we need to ask ourselves whether we are actually doing enough for the disabled in society.
Only yesterday there was a peaceful gathering by several groups representing disabled persons in front of the north court entrance at Mid Valley Megamall in Kuala Lumpur. The issue was on acessability to shopping malls. According to the Damai Disabled Persons Association Malaysia president, V. Murugeswaran, accessability to most shopping malls is a major problem for those on wheelchairs.
He stated that the problem could be solved in a simple way by building a lift at the pedestrian bridge which links the train station to the mall’s north court entrance. He said :
“The KTM station is just next to Mid Valley but our disabled people have been struggling all this while to access the mall. We can come out of the station but to actually reach the mall, within that short distance, we have major obstacles. There is no proper access. For four years, I have highlighted these accessibility issues in the meetings,”
Despite that, there has been no real change, he said. He also drew attention to the five-inch gap between the train entrance and the platform, which makes it very difficult for wheelchair users to travel on trains. Getting on and off the train becomes a huge obstacle.
He stated that even the ramp at the platform that leads to the road outside the Mid Valley mall is very steep. Furthermore, it is locked behind a huge, heavy gate and leads to a busy road.
These are dangerous conditions for anyone, let alone a disabled person.
This begs the question : Why can’t town planning committees , in particular local councils, do their planning in a more through manner? Surely the more practical and safe option would have been to build the mall around the KTM station so that the disabled can have direct entry into the mall, as practiced by other countries with more long term and strategic planning?
It is hoped that the relevant authorities such as KTM, Kuala Lumpur City Hall as well as the Mid Valley Megamall (and other shopping malls) will take heed of these concerns and build facilities which are more disabled friendly.
The strive to reach Vision 2020 for Malaysia must be one that includes all sectors of society. For there can be no true progress as a nation if we lack compassion and neglect the needs of the disabled and those with special needs in our community.
Meera Badmanaban@The Heat Malaysia Online