These are uncertain times for the Afghan people and more so for the two para-athletes who are on the threshold of their dreamy debut in Tokyo.
Despite chaos and distress in the country, para taekwondo athletes Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli remain optimistic and take inspiration from their Eternals, waiting to parade through the Paralympic Opening Ceremony with a message of hope and peace. .
Khudadadi became an 18-year-old girl from Herat province after winning the 1st 2016 African Para-Taekwondo Championships held in Egypt. She will be the second athlete to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympic Games after Mareena Karim, who competed in the Paralympic Games in the 100m T46 at the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004.
The post-Taliban regime, Khudadadi born with a disability, had shattered conservative stereotypes that men and women, interacting professionally or for sport were labeled as taboos.
“I was delighted after learning that I had a wild card to participate in the Games. This is the first time that a female athlete will represent Afghanistan at the Games and I am so happy, ”said the 23-year-old, adding that the first thought that came to her mind was whether she would have enough time to prepare. for the Games.
“I was surprised but also worried as I only had two months to prepare for the Games with almost no facilities,” said Khudadadi, who returned to the sport after watching compatriot Rohullah Nikpai make Olympic history with one bronze medal each in taekwondo in Beijing. 2008 and London 2012 Games.
“I clearly remember seeing Nikpai win medals for Afghanistan. I was inspired by him and I decided to play sport and luckily my family also supported me, ”said Khudadadi, well aware that an uncertain future awaited her but for now wants to give the ‘example.
“I just want to be there with the other athletes in the world and give my best. It is an opportunity to show my abilities and I will be so proud to be alongside all these athletes, ”said Kudadadi, who will compete in the K44 category.
Afghanistan made their Paralympic debut at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games and with the exception of the Sydney 2000 Games they have competed in all editions but have never won a Paralympic medal.
At the Rio 2016 Games, they represented with a lone athlete Mohammad Durani, who participated in the javelin throw.
This time around, along with Kudadadi, Rasouli, 24, who lost his left arm in a mine explosion, will also make his Paralympic debut. He too echoed the same sentiments as Kudadadi.
“It’s a dream to participate in the Tokyo Games and I want to win a medal for the country. I know other para athletes from different countries would have prepared very well, but I will do my best to be in a good position, ”said Rasouli, whose training regimen is mostly limited to his backyard or on the slopes. hills nearby.
Chef de mission Arian Sadiqi also stressed that the para-athletes were a boost for the Paralympic movement in the country, amid heightened security.
“The Games are very important to our athletes and the Paralympic Movement in Afghanistan because it is these para-athletes who are role models. Their presence in Tokyo will encourage and motivate other people with disabilities to participate in Parasport and lead the Movement.
“Whatever the situation, our para-athletes are doing incredibly well and preparing with limited resources. It will be a huge learning curve for them and the Afghanistan NPC, ”said Sadiqi.
“Due to the security situation in our country, lack of government funding and support and COVID-19, we were unable to take our para-athletes to the qualifying events. However, Hossain and Zakia now have this opportunity.
“I firmly believe that through the Paralympic Movement and the Paralympic Games we can all express and carry the message of coexistence for humanity, to maintain and cherish peace as strife and negative feelings destroy humanity . ”