Telling the Astounding Stories of Malaysia’s Para Athletes

loading Steven Sim with part of the 2018 Asian Para Games contingent.

Last October, I was in Jakarta to be with the Malaysian contingent competing in the Jakarta Asian Para Games. The minister and I wanted to spend as much time as possible with our para athletes just as we had done with our Asian Games athletes.

It was my first time watching para games live, and I was totally amazed by the ability of those we call persons with disabilities (PWDs).

I mean, we can all talk about the achievements of PWDs but only after one has witnessed them in action for oneself will one truly understand the determination, potential and strength of our para athletes.

After winning a match against his Thai opponent, 23-year-old wheelchair badminton athlete Mohd Ikhwan Ramli told me that he is hoping to get a new wheelchair. I asked him how much his wheelchair cost. He replied, “Six thousand ringgit”. I then asked him if the opponent whom he had just defeated also used the same type of wheelchair. He smiled and said, “His wheelchair cost about thirty thousand ringgit”.

My heart sank. Why can’t we provide better equipment and gear for our boys and girls training and fighting hard for the dignity of our country?

Sim with Mohd Ikhwan Ramli.

Sim with Salmiah Zakaria (in wheelchair), who won a silver medal in the lawn bowling event

Chee Chao Ming and Ting Ing Hock won another gold for Malaysia in the men's double TT8-9 table tennis event.

For the sake of athletes like Mohd Ikhwan, I am more determined to eliminate corruption and implement good governance. I have previously said that we want good financial governance not only on the part of the government, but also all sports bodies as well. I want to ensure that for every one ringgit the government spends on an athlete, he or she must receive the value of one ringgit, if not more. It cannot be that some middleman gets 10 sen here and another 10 sen there, and finally, when the money comes down to our athletes, they receive very little if not nothing at all.

Another amazing athlete is Salmiah Zakaria, also wheelchair bound, who won a silver medal in the lawn bowling event. Our deputy chef de mission, when meeting Salmiah after her game under the scorching Jakarta sun, immediately reminded her of her reason to be there: her family and her child. She wanted to make her family proud, and proud I’m sure they are.

I also managed to watch the amazing Ridzuan Puzi “Dekwan”, our paralympian who won two gold medals in the Asian Para Games. Some of us were worried because his nearest opponent, the Chinese sprinter Yang Yi Fei, had clocked in at the very fast speed of 11.91 seconds. However, I knew in my heart Dekwan would not disappoint. True enough, during the final 100m T36 (learning disability) men’s race, Dekwan ran so hard he not only won gold but broke the world record.

Eddy Bernard, who won the long jump T44 event.

Ridzuan Puzi "Dekwan" won two gold medals in the 2018 Asian Para Games.

Dekwan has been suffering from cerebral palsy since birth. He made us all proud when he was named the 2018 Best Asian Male Para Athlete in January 2019 – the first Malaysian to win the prestigious title.

And then there is his fellow paralympian, Abdul Latif Romly, who flew to a world record distance of 7.60m in the men’s long jump event. We were so excited watching him make his attempt, with the audience cheering him on, chanting “Terbang Latif Terbang!” (Fly Latif Fly).

I also got to watch the ending of an amazing table tennis match where our men’s double TT8-9 category pair, Chee Chao Ming and Ting Ing Hock, won another gold for Malaysia.

Nur Azlia Syafinaz Mohd Zais (in wheelchair) with her pilot. Nur Azlia took home the gold medal in the women's B kilo track cycling event.

Each time I got to sing Negaraku and watch our Jalur Gemilang rise at the podium, I trembled in awe thinking of the blood and sweat which our para athletes, their coaches and family members have shed in order to dignify the name of Malaysia in the world. The motivational value of their stories is immense for every one of us, whether able-bodied or not.

One progress attained under the previous government was the giving of equal reward to both para athletes and ablebodied athletes. Yes, now is the time to give equal treatment, equal publicity and equal opportunity to our para athletes.

Yet, a big elephant in the room of course is the lack of publicity for para games and para athletes. When I shared the above amazing stories with friends in Malaysia, many of them asked why they were not reported in the media. I am committed to change this. I want to tell the incredible stories of our para athletes.

One prominent media company, Astro Awani, has told me that they want to make a difference in this aspect. I welcome other media outlets to also do their part. We need to tell the amazing stories of our para athletes. We must let Malaysians know what great heights our fellow countrymen can achieve regardless of their obvious limitations, so long as we have the “Malaysia Boleh” spirit.

Steven Sim is the MP for Bukit Mertajam and Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports.

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