Glorious ceremony kicks off 9th Asean Para Games

KUALA LUMPUR: The 9th Asean Para Games opened in a grand style in the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil with a blaze of colour, light and fireworks as Kuala Lumpur welcomed the region's best athletes.

The Malaysian contingent marched proudly decked in the traditional Malay songket of bright red and blue into the arena to loud cheers and applause.

Spectators packing the nearly 90,000-capacity stadium also greeted the rest of the 11 participating countries with loud applause as they marched according to the alphabetical order starting with Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia as the final group.

Malaysia, which is targeting 103 gold medals, aims to gain it in four main events — athletics, swimming, 10-pin bowling and cycling.

The highlight moment which saw Malaysia announced as the champion with seven gold medals for cycling.

The ceremony kicked off at 8.30 pm with the crowd kept entertained by silat and taekwondo moves and a show by the Malaysian Armed Forces before the arrivals of foreign dignitaries, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor and Tun Jeanne Abdullah.

A minute of silence was also held for the late Kedah Sultan Tuanku Abdullah Halim and the passing of 23 victims who perished in a fire at Darul Quran Ittifaqih Tahfiz Centre last Thursday.

Najib then proclaimed "In the name of Allah, I declare open the 9th Para Games!".

Later, all eyes were on Malaysian powerlifting champion Sharifah Raudzah Syed Akil as she took the oath of sportsmanship on behalf of the athletes.

Additionally, the 'Rimau' mascot in a wheelchair was first introduced to depict a Malayan tiger's strength despite adversity.

Famous songbird Yuna wowed the crowd with her rendition of the song "Rescue" while being accompanied with a mix of disabled and able-bodied musicians.

Performers from The Beautiful Gate Foundation, Persatuan Syndrome Down Malaysia, United Voice Self Advocacy of Persons with Learning Disabilities Selangor, and Kanak-kanak Cacat Taman Megah accompanied took centre stage as they accompanied to the percussion beat.

The crowd roared as flag bearers 2016 Paralympics gold medalist for long jump Mohamad Ridzuan Puzi, shot put champion Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli, and long jump winner Abdul Latif Romly made an appearance in the opening ceremony.

The climax of the Asean Para Games opening came when Hasihin Sanawi, archery bronze medalist for London's Paralympic 2012 Games, lit the cauldron with a torch in a spectacularly executed move that enthralled spectators.

This was witnessed by World Para Cycling 2017 bronze medalist Muhammad Afiq Afify Rizan, Krishna Kumar Haridas, 400m silver medalist for the 8th Asean Para Games 2015 Singapore, athletics bronze medalist (Rio Paralympic Games 2016) Siti Noor Radiah Ismail, and 400m freestyle gold medalist Fraiden Dawan (Asian Para Games Guangzhou 2010).

A colourful fireworks display then erupted over the National Stadium with the crowd whipping out their smartphones and cameras to record the occasion.

Besides Brunei and Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam are taking part in the Para Games until Sept 23.