When the Tokyo Paralympics got underway on August 24, there were two athletes missing from the games. Hossain Rasouli and Zakia Khudadadi of Afghanistan were meant to participate in this year's games, but were unable to attend after the Taliban takeover of the country. In a show of solidarity to both the athletes and the people of Afghanistan, the country's flag was carried through Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremonies.
Rasouli, who competes in track and field, and Khudadadi, who competes in taekwondo, were unable to safely board planes to get to Tokyo. In their place, a representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees held the Afghan flag during the ceremony. “I think it's just important to highlight because it is a message basically of solidarity and peace that we send to the world,” said Andrew Parsons, the president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). “We would like to have them here, unfortunately it's not possible, but they will be here, of course, in spirit.”
Khudadadi was set to make history by being the first female athlete from Afghanistan to participate in the Paralympics. Though Khudadai and Rasouli were not able to compete in the qualifying events for the games due to lack of government support and the COVID-19 pandemic, they were as wildcards. Just two weeks before the opening ceremonies, the IPC published an article highlighting their participation.
The article talked about the difficulties that both athletes faced in trying to prepare for the games without much support. Rasouli, who lost his left arm in a mine blast, mainly trains in his backyard or the nearby hills. Khudadadi, who first garnered attention when she won the 2016 Para-Taekwondo Championships held in Egypt at just 18 years old, was looking forward to representing her country. Shortly before the games began, she published a video pleading for help to get to Tokyo. Unfortunately, given the perilous situation, it just wasn't possible.
Parsons did say that the IPC is willing to work with both athletes to support their dreams and get them to the 2024 Paris Games. But for now, they will be represented by their flag as a way to show that the international community's thoughts are with them and the entire nation of Afghanistan during this difficult time.
“It's something that goes way, way, way, way bigger than sports,” said Parsons. “And we are first concerned in Afghanistan as a nation and with the human beings, especially the females of that nation.”
h/t: [CBS News]