Evacuated from Afghanistan, Zakia Khudadadi will compete at Paralympics

While neither Khudadadi and Rasouli was able to march in the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics last week, Afghanistan's flag was carried into the stadium as a symbol of were both absent from the Tokyo Paralympics Opening Ceremony on Tuesday night, where the Afghanistan flag was waved as a symbol of "solidarity and peace." 
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On Saturday, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced that Afghan athletes Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli had arrived in Japan for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

According to the IPC press release, the two athletes were evacuated from Afghanistan last weekend and spent the week in Paris, France, at the National Institute of Sport Expertise and Performance (INSEP) before traveling to Japan.

In today’s statement, IPC President Andrew Parsons said: “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. 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.”

The full IPC release can be found here.

While neither Khudadadi and Rasouli was able to march in the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics last week, Afghanistan’s flag was carried into the stadium by a volunteer as a symbol of “solidarity and peace.”

Khudadadi, who competes in taekwondo, is set to become the second woman to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympics. (Previous reports from multiple news sources incorrectly stated that Khudadadi would be the first woman to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympics, but track & field athlete Mareena Karim competed in the women’s T46 100m sprint at the 2004 Athens Games, finishing eighth in her heat.)

Earlier this month, Khudadadi travelled from her home in Afghanistan’s Herat Province to the capital of Kabul in order to catch a flight to Tokyo, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. But before she departed for Tokyo for the Paralympics, the Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital.

“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 in a video translated and published by Reuters on August 18. “My intention is to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Please hold my hand and help me.”

Khudadadi took up taekwondo after watching her countryman Rohulluh Nikpai win bronze in the sport at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. Those two Olympic medals mark Afghanistan’s only medals in Olympic or Paralympic history.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Khudadadi trained at home and in her backyard in the lead-up to Tokyo, unable to practice at local clubs due to a heavy Taliban presence in Herat Province.

Taekwondo is one of two sports making its Paralympic debut in Tokyo. Like all Paralympic sports, athletes in taekwondo are classified by disability to create a more even playing field. The sport features two sport classes: K43 and K44.

Competitors in the K43 class have “bilateral amputation below the elbow, or equivalent loss of function in both upper limbs” while the K44 class includes “athletes with unilateral arm amputation (or equivalent loss of function), or loss of toes which impact the ability to lift the heel properly.”

Khudadadi, who is classified as a K44, will compete in the women’s 49kg K44 competition on Thursday.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

How to watch the Tokyo Paralympics

NBC will provide over 1,200 hours of Paralympic coverage. Here are some highlights:

  • A full Paralympic TV schedule (which includes an overview of coverage on NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel) can be found here.
  • Events can also be livestreamed on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app. More info is available here.