Who will ever forgot the hurrah and excitement all Malaysian felt when the country won its first gold in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. It was won by Bonnie Bunyau Gustin of Sarawak, in the powerlifting. The subsequent two gold medals were won by Abdul Latif Romly and Cheah Liek Hou, in athletics and badminton respectively. Let’s not forget also the two silver medals that was clinched Chew Wei Lun and Jong Yee Khie.

Yes, they have made our nation proud. Yes, they did their best and compete earnestly within the best of their capabilities. However, after the hype is over, how many of us will actually still remember them for their contribution to the nation?

Unlike the athletes, para-athletes in Malaysia are often sidelined. We always watched competitions such as the All England Open Badminton Championships and World Aquatics Championships having national coverage, but how about the international tournaments that our para-athletes took part in by representing their country? How many of it actually made it to national television or get a headline on the dailies or the news portals?

Our Forgotten Para-Athletes
Mariappan Perumal back when he was younger.

Earlier this year, I watched a documentary produced by VICE (VICE is a Canadian-American magazine focused on lifestyle, arts, culture, and news/politics), and they have made a video documenting a life of a former Malaysian Paralympian, titled ‘The Malaysian Paralympian Forgotten By His Country’. The video follows the life of Mariappan Perumal. He is a former Malaysian Paralympic weightlifter. He won bronze at the 1988 Summer Paralympics and 1992 Summer Paralympics. He is also the man who won Malaysia’s first Paralympic medal.

However, as Mariappan aged and was no longer able to compete, public support faded and he now lives in a public housing unit, surviving on a small state pension. “My name portrays excellence but my life doesn’t reflect it,” he told VICE. He added that he went to so many competitions that he lost his jobs because of it. Once he retired, the government just gave him pension.

Our Forgotten Para-Athletes
Former national sprinter Raduan Emeari now works at a petrol station in Kuala Selangor.

Recently, a picture of a former Paralympian working at a petrol station in Selangor went viral and it has sparked concerns among Malaysians. According to Says, the photo of former national sprinter Raduan Emeari, who competed at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, prompted concerns among fellow Malaysians. The old photo, originally from November 2019, resurfaced after a Twitter user reposted it while questioning what three different sports ministers have done for an athlete like him.

A Twitter user proceeded to pay him a visit to see how the former national athlete is doing. Twitter user Ezhar Ehsan met Raduan at the BHP petrol station in Kuala Selangor. “As promised, I went to find this amazing person. Once revered, but now working as a petrol pump assistant,” Ezhar tweeted, adding that he will accept donations from those willing to help. Nevertheless, netizens were shocked when the ex-athlete asked him not to post the photo on social media, worrying the National Sports Council (NSC) will be accused of not taking care of his welfare.

To see these two former athletes, fall from their former glory to being in a deplorable state is really heart wrenching. Though after Raduan‘s incident garnered the attention of many social media users, it has also  gained the attention of ministers to call for more actions to be carried out to help these para-athletes. Existing policies for the disabled have been insufficient to help them, as most of them scrape by with minimal salary, often barely enough to cover feed their families.

While most retired athletes are made ambassadors to many brands, para-athletes have not been offered the chance or opportunity to such chance. It is sad to see, that while many Malaysian athletes will be remembered by many generations to come, para-athletes are often forgotten once the game has wrapped or when the hype died down.

The government should pay more attention to these para-athletes as they do not have much choice offered to them after they have steeped down from the sports. Paired with disability, many companies and agencies will think twice before hiring them, fearing nuisance or deemed problematic. Plus, many companies do not have the facilities to cater to people with disabilities, which has been an ongoing problem faced by many disabled in the countries. Not having the adequate facilities catered to them might hinder their mobility or so. The government and corporation need to step up to change the situation.

The government, especially. need to change the way para-athletes are treated in their own country. They fought hard for the glory of the nation and yet their deed are repaid with being forgotten. They are hardly mentioned in textbooks, they rarely shows up in news and over time, they are forgotten by people and not known by the young generations.

Whether we are able-bodied or a person with disability, we are still people, living together in a nation and contributing to our beloved country in one way or another. Why should people with disability are treated otherwise? If we strive to achieve ‘Keluarga Malaysia’, maybe this can be the first step.