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Paralympics

Taliban Takeover Ends Afghan Paralympians’ Hopes of Competing in Tokyo

“We all have seen the images from the airport in Kabul. It became clear to us right from the beginning that there will be no safe way to try to bring these athletes to Tokyo,” ーAndrew Parsons.

Ed Odeven

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Taliban fighters display their flag while on patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 19. (Rahmat Gul/AP)

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The Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan in recent days brought chaos and uncertainty to the war-torn nation, while also halting the Afghanistan Paralympic Committee’s plans to send a team to Tokyo.

Andrew Parsons, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, announced on Wednesday, August 18 that the situation in Afghanistan is such that the nation’s Paralympians can’t make it to Tokyo.

“There are no commercial flights. We all have seen the images from the airport in Kabul. It became clear to us right from the beginning that there will be no safe way to try to bring these athletes to Tokyo,” noted Parson, speaking in an interview with Reuters.

Afghanistan’s small delegation to the Tokyo Paralympics was to include two athletes: Zakia Khudadadi, who competes in taekwondo, and discus thrower Hossain Rasouli. 

Parsons elaborated on the matter a day after his announcement, telling a news conference, “So far we believe that at the moment, we don’t have a way to bring the Afghani athletes to Tokyo in a safe way for them, in a way that will preserve their safety,” Kyodo News reported.

“We believe it is now time to focus on them as human beings and we want to guarantee that they are safe. It will put them at a higher risk if we try to bring them to compete in Tokyo.”

Arian Sadiqi, the Afghanistan Paralympic Committee’s chef de mission, confirmed earlier this week that Khudadadi and Rasouli won’t be competing.

“Unfortunately due to the current upheaval going on in Afghanistan the team could not leave Kabul in time,” Sadiqi said, according to Reuters.

Sadiqi, who lives in London, expressed disappointment in the fact that the news developments in Afghanistan quashed Khudadadi’s and Rasouli’s dreams. He also reflected on what the significance of the 23-year-old Khudadadi’s participation in the Paralympics would have been.

“They were really excited prior to the situation. They were training wherever they could, in the parks and back gardens. [She] would have been the first female Afghan taekwondo player to take part,” Sadiqi was quoted as saying by Reuters

He added: “This was history in the making. She was excited to take part. She was very passionate to compete. Zakia would have been a great role model for the rest of the females in the country.”

Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.