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Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

Why was the Afghanistan flag present at the Paralympic opening ceremony when they did not participate?

The Afghanistan flag was raised in solidarity despite their contingent not being able to make it to the Paralympics

The Afghanistan flag being hoisted in solidarity (Sources: USA Today)
The Afghanistan flag being hoisted in solidarity (Sources: USA Today)

Ananth Narasimman

Updated: 25 Aug 2021 2:41 PM GMT

In a remarkable scene of humanity at its finest, the Afghanistan flag was raised at the opening of the Tokyo Paralympic Games despite their contingent not being able to travel to the city due to a hostile takeover by the Taliban in their country.

The flag is said to be a symbol of solidarity and peace at a time of turmoil and was carried into the stadium by a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"We will include the Afghanistan flag in the ceremony as a sign of solidarity, and we have invited the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative here to act as the flagbearer," President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Andrew Parsons told reporters.

"It is important to highlight that as it is a message of solidarity and peace that we send to the world. We would like to have them here. Unfortunately, it is not possible, but they will be here in spirit," he added.

The Taliban takeover caused chaos, and mass panic in the country, with horrific images and videos surfacing, which showed citizens scrambling to flee the bleak reality that awaits them. The gory scenes from the Kabul airport had many of us in tears as our hearts went out to the Afghans while we prayed for their safety. The hostilities continued as the outfit left bodies and destruction in their wake during their march to the capital.

The dreams of many in the country, including the two-member Paralympic contingent, was shattered as sports naturally took a backseat to basic survival.

Also read: Afghanistan's first female para-athlete is unable to compete at Tokyo Paralympics

It was especially a heartbreaking moment for Zakia Khudadadi, who would have been the first woman para-athlete at the Games from Afghanistan. The 23-year-old dropped out of the games with the fear that she would be flushed out and punished due to the Taliban's hard-line against sports. Khudadadi is from the Herat province, which was one of the first to be taken over. She had left her parents in the hopes that she could make her country and her family proud at the Paralympics. Between her arrival in the capital and her scheduled departure to Tokyo, the Taliban took over, shattering her dreams and leaving her in a state of constant anxiety and fear.

"They had this inspiration, this commitment, they trained with basic facilities, very basic resources in their local clubs and back gardens to prepare for this big event. But unfortunately, everything is now shuttered. They cannot compete, they cannot take part because of what happened in their country. It is just horrific, it's devastating for the team, for the athletes and myself. Words can't explain what's actually going through their minds." said London-based chef de mission of the Afghanistan team, Arian Sadiqi, in an interview with ABC.

Khudadadi did not give up hope as she desperately called for help to get her and teammate Hossain Rosouli, onto a plane and into the Paralympic village safely. Unfortunately, this did not work, and both had to drop out with their lives being put in danger. The duo was among the many struggling to find a way out of the country before the IPC's intervention.

Also read: After Afghanistan, four other countries withdraw from Tokyo Paralympics

"Efforts have been made to remove them from Afghanistan, they are now in a safe place," IPC spokesman Craig Spence said Wednesday, reports NDTV.

"I'm not going to tell you where they are because this isn't about sport, this is about human life and keeping people safe," he added.

The IPC has stood firm on its stance in the support of the practice of sport as a basic human right, as reiterated in a statement to CNN Sports.

"Every individual should have the possibility to play sport, and no-one should be discriminated against because of their disability, gender, sexual preference, race or religion," it added in the statement.

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