Carl Court / Getty Images
While it initially looked like they wouldn’t be able to compete, the two Afghan Paralympic athletes have arrived in Tokyo and are expected to compete in events this week.
Organizers had said the Afghanistan Paralympic team – represented by taekwondo athlete Zakia Khudadadi and track athlete Hossain Rasouli – could not attend the Games due to the current turmoil and lack of commercial flights in their country of origin.
Khudadadi, who had arrived in Kabul on his way to Tokyo when the Taliban took power, posted a video message shortly after the announcement, begging for help getting to the Paralympics.
“I ask all of you – that I am an Afghan woman. And as a representative of Afghan women, I ask you to help me,” Khudadadi said, according to a Reuters translation. “My intention is to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Please hold my hand and help me.”
This is exactly what the international community has done, according to a statement from Paralympic organizers. Thanks to the support of “several individuals, organizations and governments”, Khudadadi and Rasouli were evacuated from Kabul to Paris.
The two spent a week resting and training in Paris, and following required COVID-19 precautions before arriving in Tokyo on Saturday.
“Twelve days ago we were informed that the Afghan Paralympic team could not make it to Tokyo, a decision that broke the hearts of everyone involved in the Paralympic movement and devastated both athletes,” said Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, said in a statement. That day. “This announcement sparked a major global operation that led to their safe evacuation from Afghanistan, their recovery by France and now their safe arrival in Tokyo.”
Parsons added that “we always knew there was a slim chance that the two athletes could compete in Tokyo 2020,” saying this was the reason why the Afghan flag was included in the parade of the athletes of the opening ceremony, although Khudadadi and Hossain were not present at the time.
Khudadadi will become the first Afghan athlete to compete in the Paralympic Games since 2004, when she will compete in the women’s K44-49kg weight class in taekwondo on Thursday.
And Hossain, a sprinter, arrived too late for his typical event but competed in the T47 class long jump on Tuesday.
This story originally appeared on the Morning edition live blog.