President snubs Paralympic athlete’s victory

A gold medal in the Paralympic Games, an international sporting event for disabled athletes that occurs every four years, is worth less than a gold medal in the Olympic Games. That’s the message being sent by Latvian President Valdis Zatlers, who has yet to publicly acknowledge the accomplishments of athlete Aigars Apinis.

Apinis won the gold medal Sept. 8 in the discus throw, setting a world record in the process. The Paralympic Games continue through Sept. 17 in Beijing—the same venue as the just-concluded Olympic Games.

But unlike when Latvian BMX cyclist Māris Štrombergs won gold in the Olympics, Zatlers and his office have been oddly silent in congratulating Apinis.

It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Apinis competes from a wheelchair, would it?

Latvian athletes won a full set of medals in the Beijing Summer Games. Zatlers and other government officials were there to cheer on Latvia’s athletes and to see some of the victories. Štrombergs won the gold, Ainārs Kovals got silver in the men’s javelin throw, and weightlifter Viktors Ščerbatihs earned a bronze in his weight class. Each time, Zatlers was quick to congratulate the athletes. His press office dutifully sent out releases to the media noting the president’s message of praise.

But Apinis has been shut out. Even after winning a second medal, a silver in the shot put on Sept. 12, the president’s office has not uttered a word.

When I contacted Apinis by e-mail after his gold medal victory, he replied that the only Latvian official who had sent a congratulatory message was Edgars Šneps, the assistant state secretary for sport in the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science. Apparently, even Education Minister Tatjana Koķe—who was present with an entourage in Beijing for the Olympics and issued several press releases congratulating Latvian athletes—could not be bothered to pick up the phone or a pen.

“Yes, in the last Paralympic Games, the president (Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga) was quick to congratulate us,” Apinis said.

“They probably are busy as always,” Apinis said about the government officials, “and it may not seem important, but we are carrying Latvia’s name in the world and the Latvian flag is flying.”

To be fair, it has been a busy week for the president. On Sept. 8, the day Apinis won his gold medal, the president’s calendar included an interview with Latvian Independent Television, working on pardons and a meeting with Saeima Chairman Gundars Daudze. The next day he had a full slate of meetings with the new ambassadors from Finland, New Zealand and Denmark, as well as with the foreign minister of Iceland and the head of the U.S. Air Force in Europe. Sept. 10 and 11 were no different. Plus there were preparations to make for the Sept. 12 visit to Rīga by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

When Vīķe-Freiberga in September 2004 sent a note of congratulations to Apinis and teammate Edgars Bergs for their medal victories in the Athens Paralympics, she was in New York—also with a full slate of meetings and presentations.

Curious about why Zatlers and Koķe were mum on the athlete’s accomplishments, I e-mailed their press secretaries. I am still waiting for a reply three days later.

The message from the president and others seems clear. Win a medal in the Olympics, where the “able bodied” compete, and we will take notice at the highest levels. Get one in the Paralympics and an underling will get in touch without any fanfare.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

8 thoughts on “President snubs Paralympic athlete’s victory

  1. This is quite disappointing to hear! A win for Latvia is a win for Latvia, “un viss!” Even though I had thought that Latvia had taken some big steps in the right direction (as far as acknowledging that, not only are there individuals in this world with learning, physical, and mental disabilities, but they also exist in Latvia), I guess the opposite is true. Actions speak louder than words and this silence is screaming.

  2. Silence of the officials in this case is disgraceful. “Busy week” is a poor excuse. Will Apinis receive any money from the government as winners in the “able bodied” Olympics?

  3. Prezidente VVF ir un bija nejēdzīgs tantuks, kas nepietiekami aizstāvēja latviskumu, bet jūsu žurnālists briesmīgi atjautīgi šeit izmanto iespēju tantuku atkal par kaut ko “paslavēt”. Kults?

  4. It is not only Latvia which doesn’t recognise its paralympians. Australian athletes have won many medals but our Prime Minister hasn’t commented either as far as I know. We only get one paragraph in the daily paper, but we do get excellent TV coverage from the ABC. It is a disgrace that these inspirational athletes don’t the recognition the deserve!

  5. Par to ko raksta “Buzi” : Es zinu kā izskatās VVF un tas nav kā es iedomājos tantuku. Ja “Buzi” pievienotu savu bildi, tad salīdzināsim kas nu pēc kā izskatās. “Buzi” saka: VVF “nepietiekami aistāvēja latviskumu”– ko tad viņai vajadzēja darīt lai būtu bijis pietiekami? Un beigās: Vai VVF atrada laiku apsveikt dzimtenes paraolimpiešus, vai nē? Tas ir par ko šiņī rakstā ir runa, vai nē?

  6. Yes, I too have been very disappointed by the lack of reaction to our success in the Paralympics. Latvian able-bodied Olympians receive considerable cash prizes, whereas those awarded to Paralympians are much smaller. It is a great pity that not even polite official recognition has been forthcoming, but not surprising given what I perceive as the general indifference of Latvia’s political elite to most people apart from themselves. One would think that in some senses Paralympians have had it tougher than able-bodied athletes because of having to overcome additional physical and mental challenges. Perhaps Mr President has been too busy playing games with the Parliament over who to appoint as Latvian Ambassador to the UN, and ministers are too preoccupied with cutting their budgets? Although some decisions made by the previous President may be considered controversial in some circles, one must give credit where credit is due: without a doubt she did the exemplary thing by the Paralympians in this case. Mr Zatlers, Ms Koke and the government in general need to lift their game, and this does make me wonder whether the army of ‘PR specialists’, which Latvia produces in surplus, can be taken at all seriously.

  7. The non-action of Zalter’s is deplorable. Or does he share my Latvian grandparents’ view that everything in Latvia was “perfect”, that there were never any gays, spousal abuse, dysfunctional families, physically challenged people, etc., therefore unwilling to acknowlege acheivement on the world stage because of the “shame” that Latvia could possibly have a physically challenged person? I have volunteered at the Special Olympics both at local and international competition. I think Zalters could learn a thing or two after taking an hour out of his busy schedule to view such competition. Now to sound completely cynical he could have had one of his staff type up a congratualtory note on official stationery having only to scribble his signature. My goodness, that would only take a mere 3 seconds to do, or have his staff use a rubber stamp with his sigature — I’m sure he has plenty of those.

  8. Ļoti bēdīgi, ka mums ir tāds valsts prezidents. Kā jau U.T.T. minēja viņš varēja atļauties 3 sekundes un kaut ko atsūtīt!

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