Two Afghan athletes’ dream of taking part in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, which open on August 24, was broken as the Taliban took over Kabul over the weekend and closed the country’s borders.
The Afghanistan Paralympic Committee’s London-based Chef de Mission Arian Sadiqi told Reuters on Monday that taekwondo athlete Zakia Khudadadi and athletics competitor Hossain Rasouli would not be able to attend the Games.
Khudadadi, 23, would have been the first female athlete from Afghanistan to take part in the Paralympics.
“Unfortunately due to the current upheaval going on in Afghanistan the team could not leave Kabul in time,” Sadiqi said.
The International Paralympics Committee confirmed the news on Monday. “Regrettably, NPC (National Paralympic Committee) Afghanistan will no longer participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games,” International Paralympic Committee (IPC) spokesman Craig Spence was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.
“Due to the serious ongoing situation in the country, all airports are closed and there is no way for them to travel to Tokyo.”
Sadiqi said he had been due to fly to Japan on Monday while Khudadadi and Rasouli were scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Tuesday.
In an article posted on the IPC’s website last week, Khudadadi was quoted as saying she was thrilled to have been selected to take part in the Paralympics.
“I’m so happy,” she said. “I just want to be there with the other athletes from the world and give my best. It is an opportunity to show my ability and I will be so proud to stand with all of those athletes.”
Rasouil, 24, added, “It is a dream to participate at Tokyo Games and I want to win a medal for the country.”
Speaking to Reuters on Monday, Sadiqi said he was “heartbroken” the two athletes would not be able to compete in Tokyo.
“This would have been the first female Afghan taekwondo player to take part. This was history in the making,” he said, adding that “it would have been a very great achievement for Afghanistan as a whole.”
Khudadadi “was excited to take part” and “would have been a great role model for the rest of the females in the country.”
“I’m still in a state of shock. It’s unbelievable really,” he added.
Afghanistan first took part in Paralympics in 1996 and has never won a medal at the event. But Sadiqi said the stigma previously attached to people with disabilities had begun to lift in the last few years, with Afghan para athletes competing in national and international competitions.
“There was a great improvement within the federation itself and within the Afghan Paralympic Committee… There was a lot of progress in terms of participants, athletes taking part, as slowly, people’s interest was building up towards the Paralympics and para athletes.”
He feared that with the return of the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan until 2001, “(we’re) going back to square one.”
“Previously during the Taliban era… people couldn’t compete, couldn’t participate, especially female athletes,” he said, adding the situation was now “very unpredictable.”
“I can’t really say for sure how it would look like for the future. I can only guess and say that it doesn’t look good. It doesn’t look good at all.”