KUALA LUMPUR: The mere mention of a sporting event is enough to get Malaysians to instantly set aside their differences and unite to cheer on the athletes representing our country.
It is this togetherness that constantly raises the spirits of Rio Paralympic gold medallists Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli, Mohamad Ridzuan Mohd Puzi and Abdul Latif Romly.
Muhammad Ziyad observed that there was no ethnicity in sporting events, and every Malaysian athlete was seen as a representative of their nation and nothing else.
“The fans who come to support us come to support Malaysia as a whole, not the person competing based on his or her race or religion.
“You cannot get this feeling anywhere else.
“I want all Malaysians to be Malaysians first, as it is the only way to live in harmony,” said the men’s shot putt Paralympics gold medallist and world champion.
Muhammad Ziyad, Mohamad Ridzuan and Abdul Latif made the nation proud when they won Malaysia’s first Paralympic gold medals at the Rio Games last year, with Muhammad Ziyad and Abdul Latif both setting world records in their respective sports.
Long jump world champion Abdul Latif said it was wonderful to know that he was uniting Malaysians every time he stepped out onto the field.
“Sports has a powerful way of bringing together a nation, like when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup for the first time in 1995, it unified a nation that was suffering from apartheid.
“If I can inspire Malaysian unity every time I compete, and make them look at everyone else as their equal, that is an amazing feat in itself,” he said.
Paralympian sprinter Mohamad Ridzuan feels the Malaysian pride rise in him whenever he meets his fans and fellow countrymen from all segments of society.
“I am very honoured to represent Malaysia and win medals for the country.
“Sports has united our people and it was lovely to see Malaysians support para athletes in the 9th Asean Para Games,” he said.
Mohamad Ridzuan, who is the 100m gold medallist T37 (cerebral palsy) in last year’s Rio Paralympics, is also touched by the concern of Malaysians after he was forced to withdraw from the Asean Para Games last week.
“Many had reached out to say they were sorry for me when I had to withdraw because of high fever. It shows their love and support for me as a sportsman,” he said.
Considering that they all also compete in international sporting events, it was only right to discover what it was about their home country that they missed the most while they were away.
For all three of them, they normally miss their family at home and the bright sunny weather, as well as the food which according to Muhammad Ziyad, “we can always have 24/7”!
“It’s nice to try other food but after a while I will crave for my familiar favourites like roti canai, chicken curry, nasi lemak, nasi kandar and so on,” laughed Abdul Latif.
“I miss mostly the Malaysian home-cooked food my parents make for me, because I am very used to home cooking and I am also very close to my parents,” Mohamad Ridzuan mused.