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Afghan Paralympians' Arrival In Tokyo Sends Out 'Message Of Hope'

Afghan taekwondo athlete Zakia Khudadadi

A spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has said that the arrival of two Afghan athletes in Tokyo following their evacuation from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan sends out "a very strong message of hope."

Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli were welcomed to the Paralympics Village on August 28 by IPC President Andrew Parsons, IPC Athletes Council chairperson Chelsey Gotell, and the Afghanistan team's Chef de Mission Arian Sadiqi, spokesman Craig Spence told a briefing on August 29.

"As you can imagine, the meeting was extremely emotional," he said, adding: "There were lots of tears from everyone in the room.”

Khudadadi, a taekwondo athlete, and Hossain Rasouli, a track athlete, were among thousands of people unable to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power before the two were evacuated in what the IPC called a "major global operation.”

The IPC said that the pair spent a week in Paris at a French Sports Ministry training center following their evacuation from Kabul.

Spence did not say how the pair got out of the Afghan capital, but mentioned the help of several governments and other agencies.

At the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games on August 24, a volunteer carried Afghanistan’s national flag to represent the absent team.

Khudadadi and Rasouli will not be available for interviews during the Paralympics, Spence said.

“This is a really complex situation, one of the most complex we’ve ever been involved in," the spokesman said.

"So what we can say is limited. Human life is the most important thing here. Having the athletes here isn’t about getting media coverage. It’s about these athletes fulfilling their dream of being able to attend the Paralympic Games.”

Khudadadi will compete in the women’s taekwondo 44-49-kilogram weight category on September 2.

Rasouli will line up in the heats of the men's 400-meter the following day.

It remains unclear where the pair will go after the Paralympics ends on September 5.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and the BBC
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