As Malaysians celebrate the Olympics silver medal won by Pandelela Rinong and her partner Cheong Jun Hoong in the synchronised 10m platform and watch in awe the exploits of the best sportsmen in the world in the on-going games, a group of athletes were tearing up trees in the pool, on the tracks and in the gyms in Kuching.
They are the paralympians competing in the 18th Malaysian Paralympic Games in Kuching which by coincidence started on the same day as the Rio Olympics on Aug 5.
Most of us were not aware or bothered about the achievements of these men and women overcoming their physical disabilities to compete in games.
Lest we forget sport is not only about being the fastest or strongest – every sport competition is a celebration of the human spirit to do their best in the endeavours – you are a winner if you have done your best.
This was what the physically handicapped men and women showed in the just concluded Malaysian Paralympic Games.
The times they recorded, distance they cleared or weight they lifted are a world away from those recorded by the Olympians or even the competitors in the recent Malaysian Games (Sukma) but these disabled athletes matched anyone in their efforts and spirit to strive for the best within their limitations.
It is sad that their achievements have never been fully appreciated by the authorities and given scant attention.
It is therefore heartening that Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin spoke up for them at the closing of the Paralympic Games on August 11 when he said that para-athletes should be given the same priority and rewards as their able-bodied counterparts.
Khairy’s call was not mere rhetoric or something said just for the occasion because he has proven true to his conviction on the equality of disabled athletes.
He disclosed that in 2013 when he took over the sports ministry he had changed the reward quantum for para-athletes, which at that time was only 30 per cent of that given to regular athletes, to be on par with the rest.
However, at state level para-athletes still receive lower incentives than table-bodied sportsmen.
Hopefully, state sports ministries would take note of Khairy’s call and adjust the rewards for para-athletes for their achievements.
On another note, Sarawak won the national paralympic games for the 13th consecutive time by the usual whopping margin.
This year the state won 85 golds leaving the rest of the field way behind with Johor which finished second garnering only 35 gold medals.
This overwhelming superiority of Sarawak in the paralympic games reflects positively for the state’s welfare system for which the Sarawak Welfare Ministry deserves a pat on the back.
The results over the years showed that the disabled in the state have not been neglected – something must be right if the state’s paralympians were to reign supreme year in year out. Other states should take heed of Sarawak’s success in the Paralympics and emulate its system.
To add icing on the cake two of the state’s paralympians, Jamery Siga and Jong Yee Khie, will be representing the nation in swimming and weight lifting in the world Paralympic Games in Rio from Sept 7 -18.
Jamery and Yee Khie might not be household names and would not generate as much excitement among sports fans as Pandelela or Datuk Lee Chong Wei but they deserve as much respect for their spirit to excel at the highest level.
After the Rio Olympic is over, let us rally behind Jamery and Yee Khie and the rest of the Malaysian team in the Paralympic Games to be held in the same city.