On Saturday (28 August) evening, the Afghan athletes Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli were warmly welcomed to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Village by IPC President Andrew Parsons and IPC Athletes’ Council Chairperson Chelsey Gotell.
Following their safe evacuation from Afghanistan last weekend, the two athletes spent the week in Paris, France, at the National Institute of Sport Expertise and Performance (INSEP), the French sports ministry’s high-performance training centre. On Friday (27 August) evening, the pair boarded an 11-hour flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to Tokyo Haneda Airport before being transported to the Paralympic Village.
Andrew Parsons, IPC President, said: “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. That announcement kick-started a major global operation that led to their safe evacuation from Afghanistan, their recuperation by France, and now their safe arrival in Tokyo.
“We always knew there was a remote chance both athletes could participate at Tokyo 2020 which is why the Afghan flag was paraded at Tuesday’s Opening Ceremony. 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.
“Our number one priority has and always will be the health and well-being of both athletes. Over the last 12 days, Zakia and Hossain have continued to express their absolute desire to come and compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
“Thanks to the outstanding efforts of several Governments, the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, Human Rights for All, the French Paralympic Committee, the British Paralympic Association, World Taekwondo, Zakia and Hossain are now in Tokyo to fulfil their dreams, sending out a strong message of hope to many others around the world.
“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.”
Chelsey Gotell, IPC Athletes’ Council Chairperson, said: “On behalf of their fellow 4,403 Paralympic athletes competing at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, I welcome Zakia and Hossain to the Paralympic Village. This is their home for the next nine days and as a community, we are 100 per cent behind them.
“Both athletes have been extremely clear that after years of training they wanted to compete on the biggest stage of all, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. The fact that so many authorities have combined to make this possible is truly wonderful.
“Since leaving Afghanistan last week they have received excellent care from the French authorities and the team at INSEP. Throughout and going forward the most important thing is Zakia and Hossain’s physical and mental wellbeing. We have been reassured that they arrive in Tokyo ready to do what they have trained years for.
“They will have the full support of the Paralympic family while with us. We know Zakia and Hossain will want to do themselves and their families proud. The stage is theirs to show the world the power of sport.”
When she competes in the women’s K44-49kg weight category in taekwondo on Thursday 2 September, Zakia will be Afghanistan’s first female athlete to compete at the Paralympic Games since Athens 2004. Hossain, who was originally due to participate in the men’s 100m T47 on Saturday 28 August, will now line up in the heats of the men’s 400m T47 athletics event on Friday 3 September.
Following Saturday’s arrival of the two athletes, a special press briefing involving the IPC President, IPC Athletes’ Council Chairperson and IPC Chief Brand and Communications Officer Craig Spence will take place on Sunday at 11:00 JST at the Tokyo 2020 Main Press Centre. Only Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games accredited Press and Broadcasters will be allowed to attend.
To allow the athletes to focus on their sporting performance, the pair will not be available for interviews during the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Both athletes have been given permission not to attend Mixed Zones post-competition.