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These Afghan Athletes Finally Made It From Kabul To The Paralympics

Hossain Rasouli of Team Afghanistan waves after competing in the Men's Long Jump-T47 Final at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Tuesday. He and teammate Zakia Khudadadi managed to get to Tokyo despite the turmoil in their home country.
Hossain Rasouli of Team Afghanistan waves after competing in the Men's Long Jump-T47 Final at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Tuesday. He and teammate Zakia Khudadadi managed to get to Tokyo despite the turmoil in their home country.

While it initially looked like they would not be able to participate, Afghanistan's two Paralympic athletes have arrived in Tokyo and are set to compete in events this week.

Organizers had said Afghanistan's Paralympic team — represented by Taekwondo athlete Zakia Khudadadi and track athlete Hossain Rasouli — wouldn't be able to attend the Games because of the ongoing turmoil and lack of commercial flights in their home country.

Khudadadi, who had arrived in Kabul to fly to Tokyo when the Taliban took over, released a video message shortly after that announcement pleading for help getting to the Paralympics.

"I request from you all — that I am an Afghan woman. And as a representative of Afghan women, I ask you to help me," Khudadadi said, according to a translation from Reuters. "My intention is to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Please hold my hand and help me."

The international community did just that, according to a statement from Paralympic organizers. Thanks to support from "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 requisite COVID-19 precautions before arriving in Tokyo on Saturday.

"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," Andrew Parsons, International Paralympic Committee president, said in a statement that day. "That announcement kickstarted a major global operation that led to their safe evacuation from Afghanistan, their recuperation by France, and now their safe arrival in Tokyo."

Parsons added that "we always knew there was a remote chance both athletes could participate at Tokyo 2020," saying that was why the Afghan flag was included in the opening ceremony's parade of athletes even though Khudadadi and Hossain were not present then.

Khudadadi will become Afghanistan's first female athlete to compete at the Paralympic Games since 2004 when she competes on Thursday in the women's K44-49kg weight category in taekwondo.

And Rasouli, a sprinter, arrived too late for his typical event but participated in the long jump in the T47 class on Tuesday.


This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.