Thousands of Afghans converge on Kabul airport, hoping to escape the country after the Taliban seized the capital.
Zakia Khudadadi would have been the first woman to represent Afghanistan at a Paralympic Games when they start in Tokyo this month, but her dream has been shattered amid the country’s turmoil.
Just two Paralympic athletes from Afghanistan were scheduled to compete in the Games set to commence on August 24 – taekwondo athlete Zakia Khudadadi and track athlete Hossain Rasouli.
Khudadadi, 23, was to be the first woman ever to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympics.
But the International Paralympics Committee confirmed on Monday that, with the Taliban takeover, the two athletes would no longer be able to travel to Japan.
“Regrettably, NPC (National Paralympic Committee) Afghanistan will no longer participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games,” IPC spokesman Craig Spence said.
“Due to the serious ongoing situation in the country, all airports are closed and there is no way for them to travel to Tokyo.”
There was no word on whether the IPC had been asked to try to assist team members, or was making efforts to do so.
US forces have taken over air traffic control at Kabul airport, where five died on Monday in chaotic scenes with reports of firing in the air and a stampede.
Taliban fighters have overrun major cities and now control most of Afghanistan. The group was overthrown in 2001, but has made sweeping military gains in recent months as foreign forces, led by the United States, withdrew.
The Afghanistan Paralympic Committee’s London-based Chef de Mission Arian Sadiqi told the Reuters news agency he had been due to fly to Japan on Monday while the team – Khudadadi and Rasouli – had been scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on August 17.
Taekwondo athlete Khudadadi was profiled on the Paralympic website last week talking about her hopes for the Games.
“I was thrilled after I received the news that I have got a wild card to compete at the Games,” said the 23-year-old from Herat.
“This is the first time that a female athlete will be representing Afghanistan at the Games and I’m so happy,” she had said then.
Sadiqi said the athletes had been trying to secure flights, but prices soared as the Taliban took over a string of cities.
Then it became impossible.
“They were really excited prior to the situation. They were training wherever they could, in the parks and back gardens,” he said.
Future for Afghan sport looks bleak
Afghan athletes first competed at the 1996 Paralympic Games but have never won a medal.
Rohullah Nikpai became Afghanistan’s first Olympic medallist in any sport when he won bronze in taekwondo at the 2008 Beijing Games, repeating the feat at London 2012.
Sadiqi said the future for Afghan athletes looked bleak, if the past was anything to go by.
“There was a lot of progress, both in the Olympics and the Paralympics,” he said of recent decades. “At the national level, there was a lot of participants, a lot of athletes … but we can only predict from what happened in the past.
“Previously during the Taliban era, people couldn’t compete, couldn’t participate, especially female athletes.
“For me, it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “This would have been the first female Afghan taekwondo player to take part. This was history in the making. She was excited to take part. She was very passionate to compete.