Afghan athlete evacuated from Kabul belatedly competes at Paralympics

Hossain Rasouli, one of the two Paralympic athletes evacuated from Afghanistan in an emergency operation last week, has been able to take part in competition at Tokyo’s flagship Olympic Stadium.

The 26-year-old, who is primarily a sprinter, competed in the T47 long jump on Tuesday morning. He finished in last place, but recorded a personal best distance of 4m 46 as he took the applause of the competing athletes and delegates.

If Rasouli gave the appearance of being discombobulated, bewildered by the experience, then it was understandable. He flew into the country on Saturday night with his teammate Zakia Khudadadi, who will compete in the taekwondo competition later this week, after being smuggled out of Kabul in dramatic circumstances.

In an international operation that included efforts on the part of ParalympicsGB, Rasouli and Khudadadi were able to enter Kabul airport thanks to the assistance of the Australian military, which had a presence there.

The founder of Human Rights for All, Alison Battisson, who provides legal assistance to refugees and was personally involved in the process of helping the athletes out, described her experience in an interview with the New York Times.

She said that the athletes were guided into the airport remotely using a shared GPS position, and that they were told to carry bright scarves so as to identify themselves to troops once inside. Athletes were given advice such as to hide their papers and money in a bright scarf in their underwear, “and then when you pass through Taliban checkpoints, bring out your scarf and wave it like crazy,” Battisson said.

Khoudadadi and Rasouli got the attention they needed and were able to board a plane. They flew first to Dubai and then on to Paris, where they spent several days at the National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance in Paris. On Saturday they came to Tokyo where they were welcomed by the International Paralympic Committee.

“I was very happy to hear they made it to Tokyo, because I had no idea where on the planet they were,” Battisson said.

Rasouli, who had his left hand amputated after he was wounded in a landmine explosion, had been hoping to compete in the 100m but arrived too late for competition. He then rejected the offer of the 400m saying, according to a Paralympic spokesperson, saying “look, I’m a 100m sprinter, doing 400m is going to be some effort”.

A compromise of competing the long jump was suggested by Hassouli himself and agreed. He was able to practice for just 90 minutes on Monday night before entering the strongly contested T47 category alongside athletes from the United States, China and representatives of the Russian Paralympic Committee. The gold medal was won by Robiel Sol Cervantes of Cuba, who jumped 7m 46cm, exactly three metres further than Rasouli.

Houdadadi is earmarked to enter competition on Thursday. The taekwondo fighter, if she makes weight, is set to compete in the women’s K44 -49kg category.

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