The Afghanistan Paralympic team will compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, the International Paralympic Committee announced on Saturday.
Zakia Khudadadai and Hossain Rasouli arrived in the Japanese capital, the IPC said, having previously been expected to miss the Games due to the ongoing turmoil in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan National Paralympic Committee (NPC) had said on August 16 that the athletes would not be competing at the Paralympics, due to the chaos caused by the Taliban’s takeover of the country following the US military withdrawal.
Fears arose regarding the safety and the future of Afghanistan's para-athletes, especially after Khudadadi had released a video plea in Farsi saying that she was unable to go outside with confidence to train, shop or check on other people.
However the statement, written on Sunday by the NPC, confirmed that Khudadadai and Rasouli had been evacuated last weekend from Kabul to Paris, and that they had arrived in Tokyo ready to compete, calling for “hope, peace, and solidarity for the people of Afghanistan and the world”.
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.”
When the Taliban previously held power between 1996 and 2001, Afghanistan was banned from participating in the Olympics because of the militants' discrimination against women and prohibition of sports of any kind. It is unclear whether the team will be able to return safely to Afghanistan after the Paralympic Games conclude.
The announcement comes just two days after over 180 people were killed in a bombing attack outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital, as thousands of civilians gathered hoping to be evacuated.
Khudadadai will be Afghanistan’s first female athlete to compete at the Paralympic Games since Athens 2004 when she participates in the women’s K44 -49kg weight category in taekwondo on 2 September.
Hossain will line up in the heats of the men’s 400m T47 athletics event on 3 September.
“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," IPC President Andrew Parsons, said. "That announcement kickstarted a major global operation that led to their safe evacuation from Afghanistan, their recuperation by France, and now their safe arrival in Tokyo.
"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.
“We will continue to work closely with Zakia, Hossain and the team’s Chef de Mission to ensure they receive all the care and support they need both during and after the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.”