Hot on the heels of the 29th SEA Games, which ran its course from 19 to 30 August, the ninth instalment of the ASEAN Para Games now takes over the sports clusters around the Klang Valley that had proudly flown the SEA Games flag. On the cool Sunday evening that was 17 September, the official opening ceremony for this latter half of KL2017 took place at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, kicking off a week of incredible displays of true resolve and fine sportsmanship! Delivered via the two giant screens in the stadium, a charming countdown-from-10 video that involved all the participating nations (one country per count, with Malaysia at the end bidding everyone a warm ‘selamat datang’ welcome) set the ball rolling. These 11 countries are the same ones which were in the SEA Games, namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. Hosts TV personality Ida Nerina and wheelchair-bound Ras Adiba Radzi, a newscaster-turned-national sportswoman (in sharpshooting, although she missed qualifying for these Games by a hair), announced the subsequent item in the itinerary; the parade of flags from the participating nations as well as the SEA Games Federation and 9th Edition flags. These were borne by the Malaysian Armed Forces, led by the Royal Malaysian Navy.
Para Rimau bids everyone a warm hello
The sizeable Malaysian contingent makes its way into the stadium
Contingents from all 11 countries find their respective spots around the stadium ground
National Stadium are capable of was once again in full swing, casually harvesting “Oohs” and “Aahs” from the thousands of spectators who turned up for the event. The first order of business they carried out was the re-introduction of the adorable Games mascot, Rimau, projecting his visage upon the floor. Standing in a pattern, outlining the features on the tiger’s face for added effect, was a group of KL2017 volunteers. Rimau himself showed up momentarily after, albeit with a little change – known as Para Rimau, this cool cat was sat in a wheelchair to better resonate with the amazing group of athletes in the Para Games! These men and women, in all shapes, sizes and bearing, were introduced to the crowd next in the parade of athletes. One by one, each contingent entered the stadium to mega applause, as its country’s name scrolled across the top stands thanks to sophisticated LED ‘paddles’ among the seats. The Malaysian team was the last to make its way in, led by flagbearers shot putt world record holder Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli and long jump world record holder Abdul Latif Romly – both 2016 Rio Paralympics gold medallists. As the athletes took their places around the stadium ground for the remainder of the show, an inspirational video, titled I Am Here and performed by artiste Aman RA, was broadcasted, highlighting the heightened spirit of competition that lives within these disabled sportspeople. This was followed by an amazing show by Dawnette Yeo Yi Lin, a Malaysian para swimmer and violinist who gave up her left leg to cancer. Playing her violin, she uses shadow play to underline the importance of not giving up. Unfortunately, due to injury, she is skipping this round of the Para Games.
The Steve Thornton Percussion Unit doing their thing
International singing sensation Yuna dazzling everyone in the stadium
The musical overtones continued with sape player Alena Murang, who was joined by fellow sape musician, wheelchair-bound Stephen Kayang and bamboo artiste Ramlan Koyok. The all-inclusive Steve Thornton Percussion Unit also played We Are One, with dancers flocking to the field. Yuna’s Rescue (an aptly chosen anthem for the occasion as it implies the para athletes are capable and ‘don’t need rescuing’) was slowly overlaid into this performance. It heralded the megastar’s arrival, who came out with a powerful rendition of the song, incorporating the percussion’s members. Among those who joined her in the performance were individuals from Down Syndrome Association of Malaysia and the Beautiful Gate Foundation for The Disabled. In between further uplifting videos, Maj. Gen. Osoth Bhavilai, President of the ASEAN Para Sports Federation (APSF), stepped up to the rostrum and delivered his speech. “My special thanks to all the 11 contingents and volunteers as well as supporters and fans who are gathered here with a common aim of rising together in the celebrating of this momentous occasion. To athletes, this is your moment to shine, compete with the spirit of true sportsmanship!” YB Brig. Gen. Khairy Jamaluddin’s rousing speech followed. The Minister of Youth and Sports and Chairman of the Malaysia Organising Committee (MASOC) began by touching on the inspirational nature of the recently concluded SEA Games. “We are not even close with being done with inspiration, because tonight we celebrate the start of one week of extraordinary inspiration. The athletes that we honour and celebrate tonight are not ordinary; they are extraordinary. Theirs is a story of unimaginable challenge and sacrifice. “Where others see disability, they see ability. Where others see obstacles, they see opportunities. Where others give excuses, they persevere. Where others are resigned to faith, they are masters of their own destiny. When others said ‘No, you can’t be an athlete; No, you can’t do sports; No, your body can’t take it,’ they said, ‘Yes, I can be an athlete; Yes, I will succeed; Yes, I am here tonight representing my country!’ The ASEAN Para Games is not just a sports competition, it is a celebration of the human will and spirit – the grit and determination of staring failure in the eyes and defeating it.”
The five chosen sporting heroes carrying the torch as the Cauldron-lighting ceremony commences
This ingenious gambit involved the athletes operating a pulley system to lift a lit piece of the Cauldron into its rightful place, thus lighting the Games Cauldron
With achievements etched deep in the nation’s history, several Malaysian para athlete legends were then brought into the stadium to roaring cheers. These icons, which included Mohamad Khasseri Othman, Mariappan Perumal, Nabilah Ahmad Sharif Norhayati Sarnoh, Felicia Mikat, Siti Nor Lasah Mohamad Arifin, Zul Amirul Sidi, Hemala Devi Enu Kutty, Faridul Masri, Cheok Kon Fatt and Siow Lee Chan accompanied the Federation and 9th Edition flag-raising ceremony. This gave way to the cardinal moment of the night as Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak officially declared the 9th ASEAN Para Games Opening Ceremony open, setting off a slew of fireworks. The oath-taking ceremony of the athletes held the spotlight next, led by Malaysian champion powerlifter Sharifah Raudzah Syed Akil. Finally, the lighting of the Cauldron was a group effort between a star team of Malaysian para athletes – Hasihin Sanawi, Muhammad Afiq Afify Rizan, Krishna Kumar Haridas, Siti Noor Radiah Ismail and Fraiden Dawan. From the stage, they lit a segment of the Torch and raised it up to complete the Spirit Of Unity Cauldron by manually turning a large crankshaft. An elaborate fireworks display both within and over the stadium then brought the night to a close.