After a public plea for help, Afghan athletes Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli arrived safely at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced on Saturday.
Safe evacuation: Khudadadi, 23, and Rasouli, 26, were evacuated from the now Taliban-controlled capital of Kabul to Paris last week. IPC President Andrew Parsons called the trip “a major global operation.”
- “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,” Parsons said in a statement. “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.”
- Olympic organizers paraded Afghanistan’s flag at the opening ceremony on Aug. 23 through a volunteer.
- In a briefing on Sunday, IPC spokesman Craig Spence said the two athletes required a few days of privacy as they settled in at the Tokyo Paralympic Village, France24 reported.
- Spence did not go into detail on how the IPC had evacuated Khudadadi and Rasouli from Kabul. However, Parsons thanked “several governments,” the Center for Sport and Human Rights, Human Rights for All, the French Paralympic Committee, the British Paralympic Association and World Taekwondo for bringing the two athletes to Tokyo.
- Khudadadi, a taekwondo athlete, will make her debut in the women’s 44 to 49-kilogram weight category in taekwondo on Thursday. Rasouli, a track athlete who missed the 100-meter T47 race, will compete in the 400-meter event on Friday, CNN reported.
A call for help:
On Aug. 13, the Afghanistan Paralympic Committee announced that two of their athletes would not be able to participate in the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Khudadadi posted a video asking for help to leave Kabul on Aug. 17, the same day she and Rasouli had been scheduled to fly to Tokyo, according to Reuters
- “I request from you all, that I am an Afghan woman and as a representative of Afghan women, I ask you to help me,” Khudadadi said in the video. “Please hold my hand and help me.”
- There weren’t any commercial flights available at the time because of the ongoing crisis in the country. “It became clear to us right from the beginning that there will be no safe way to try to bring these athletes to Tokyo,” Parsons told Reuters.
Khudadadi will be the second female athlete to represent Afghanistan in the Paralympics after Mareena Karim, who competed in the 100-meter T46 race in the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, as per the IPC
- Khudadadi, who was born with a disability and only has one functional arm, won the first African 2016 Para-Taekwondo Championships when she was 18 years old.
- Rasouli, who reportedly lost his left arm from a mine blast, is also a first-time Paralympian.