Afghanistan’s Paralympic team arrived in Tokyo on Saturday and after testing negative at Haneda Airport have been given the green light to compete in Japan.
Taekwondo athlete Zakia Khudadadi, 22, and athletics competitor Hossain Rasouli, 26, were evacuated last weekend from Kabul to Paris, where they trained at the National Institute of Sport Expertise and Performance (INSEP), the French sports ministry high performance training center.
Khudadadi will become the second female athlete from Afghanistan to compete at the Paralympics and their first since 2004 when she competes in the women’s K44 -49kg weight category in taekwondo on 2 September at the Makuhari Messe Hall in Chiba.
Hossain was originally scheduled to compete in the men’s 100m T47 race, which took place on the 27 August, and has, with IPC approval, decided to compete in the long jump T47 event on Tuesday 31 August.
The Afghanistan flag was carried by a volunteer at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic opening ceremony as the IPC initially announced that the country could ‘no longer take part’ in the Paralympics.
The team received global support from several individuals, organizations and governments which enabled them to leave their homeland and to arrive in Japan to take their rightful place at the Games.
The Afghanistan Paralympic Committee hopes to send a message of hope, peace and solidary to the world and was grateful to all the organizations who have supported them.
“The Afghanistan Paralympic Committee expresses its deep appreciation to all the organizations that have provided support to the athletes, including several governments, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, International Paralympic Committee (IPC), Human Rights for All, French Paralympic Committee, British Paralympic Association, and World Taekwondo, for their support in making the dreams of the athletes possible,” a statement read.
Arian Sadiqi, Chef de Mission of the Afghan Paralympic Team, said: “I strongly believe that, through the Paralympic Movement and the Paralympic Games, we all can deliver the positive message that peaceful co-existence is best for humanity, that we should celebrate our differences knowing that we have more in common than that which divides us, and that we should keep and cherish peace because quarrels and negative feeling only destroy humankind.”
IPC Spokesman Craig Spence said: “With the chance that the athletes could be safely evacuated from Kabul and the knowledge that both wanted to come to Tokyo 2020, the decision was taken by the IPC governing board on 22 August to allow the Afghan flag to be paraded at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony in solidarity. This was the IPC’s first step in keeping the door open for the Afghan team to potentially be involved in these Games.
“Very early on 23 August the athletes were safely evacuated from Kabul to Paris. In Paris the two athletes were cared for at the National Institute of Sport Expertise and Performance, known as INSEP. In addition to being able to continue their preparations for Tokyo the pair were given clothes, counselling and psychological support.
“Throughout their stay in Paris, both athletes expressed a strong aspiration to come attend the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.”
Spence also discussed the emotional meeting between the Afghanistan delegation and members of the IPC.
“IPC President Andrew Parsons welcomed both athletes to the Village and told them their safety, health and mental well-being were our top priority and always will be our top priority. He also told them that if it wasn’t for social distance measures he would’ve given them a hug as if they were one of his own family. He also stated the IPC would work alongside Tokyo 2020 to lay out the best possible platform should they wish to compete at these Games.
“Chairperson of the IPC Athletes’ Council Chelsey Gotell informed the athletes that they should feel at home in the Paralympic Village for the next nine days. And they would feel warmth and love from their fellow athletes.
“Both athletes expressed their sincere gratitude for their safe evacuation from Kabul and the opportunity to fulfil a life-long dream of attending a Paralympic Games.”
Spence added: “Both athletes are here due to the outstanding efforts of several governments, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, Human Rights Abroad, the French Paralympic Committee, the British Paralympic Association and World Taekwondo. From the IPC’s perspective, we’d like to thank all those organizations for allowing these athletes to fulfil their dreams.
“Both athletes are here sending out a strong message of hope to many around the world. We’ll continue to work with the athletes and the team’s chef de mission to ensure they receive the support and care they need both during and after the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.”
The two athletes have been given a special exemption from any media duties while at Tokyo 2020 and will not be required to pass through the mixed zones.