Afghanistan athletes Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli will take part in the Tokyo Paralympics after being safely evacuated from Kabul. The pair looked set to miss the event following the Taliban’s return to power in their native country but arrived in the Japanese capital on Saturday via a week-long stay in Paris.
Khudadadi will be the first female Afghan to compete at the Games since Athens 2004 when she takes part in the women’s K44 -49kg taekwondo on Thursday, while Rasouli will line up in the heats of the men’s 400m T47 athletics event the following day.
Afghanistan’s flag was paraded at Tuesday’s opening ceremony as a message of solidarity. International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons said in a statement: “Twelve days ago we were informed that the Afghan Paralympic Team could not travel to Tokyo, a move that broke the hearts of all involved in the Paralympic movement and left both athletes devastated.
“That announcement kick-started a major global operation that led to their safe evacuation from Afghanistan, their recuperation by France, and now their safe arrival in Tokyo. We always knew there was a remote chance both athletes could participate at Tokyo 2020 which is why the Afghan flag was paraded at Tuesday’s opening ceremony.
“Like all the athletes here at Tokyo 2020, we never gave up hope and to now have Zakia and Hossain in the Paralympic Village alongside 4,403 other Paralympians shows the remarkable power of sport to bring people together in peace.
“Our No 1 priority has and always will be the health and well-being of both athletes. Over the last 12 days, Zakia and Hossain have continued to express their absolute desire to come and compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.”
The two athletes spent the past week at the National Institute of Sport Expertise and Performance (INSEP), the French sports ministry’s high performance training centre.
They each returned two negative coronavirus tests before departure and were tested once again upon arrival at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.
Rasouli was originally due to participate in the men’s 100m T47 on Saturday but will now line up in the 400m heats.
Afghanistan chef de mission Arian Sadiqi 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.”