From Kabul to Tokyo: The Two Afghan Paralympians

Written by: Andy P.

Edited by: Jagat S.

Visual by: Issy P.

This August, the world was presented with shocking scenes of desperate Afghans flooding the Kabul international airport’s tarmac, most missing their last chance to escape a now Taliban-run country. Just two weeks before the U.S. was set to complete the withdrawal of its troops, the Taliban stormed across Afghanistan, capturing the capital city of Kabul in a matter of a few days.

With the roads blocked by the Taliban and the airport entrances swarmed by people, two Afghan paralympic athletes would be unable to fly safely from Kabul to Japan to compete in the Tokyo Paralympics

Soon after the news reached Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), a news conference announced that the two athletes, Zakia Khudadadi, who had qualified in taekwondo, and Hossain Rasouli, a sprinter, would not attend. 

Khudadadi, who had been in Kabul waiting to fly to Tokyo before the Taliban’s takeover, released a video asking for help to get to the Paralympics. “I request from you all, that I am an Afghan woman and as a representative of Afghan women ask for 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.”

Following this appeal, support was given from several individuals, organizations, and governing bodies, such as the Center for Sport and Human Rights, the French Paralympic Committee, a group of human rights activists, lawyers and many more. With their assistance, the two athletes were able to be evacuated from Kabul to Paris, spending time recuperating in a training facility and taking COVID-19 measures and precautions before eventually making their way to the Haneda International Airport on August 28. 

As the athletes were taken to the Paralympic Village, the two were greeted by Parsons and a number of other officials in a tear-filled and emotional scene.

“Of course, it was very emotional to see that in some way we had contributed to them fulfilling their dream,” Parsons said. He added that despite their inability to make it to the airport, officials still believed that there was even a minor opportunity for the Afghan athletes to participate at Tokyo 2020. 

During the period where the Afghan athletes were unable to leave Kabul, Rasouli had to train in his backyard and hills near his home, instead of at an adequate training facility. Similarly, Khudadadi had only 2 months to prepare for the Games, and also had no facilities. Due to their late arrival, the sprinter, Rasouli, was not able to compete in the first heat of the 100 meter sprint, but luckily made it in time for the long jump. After his final try at the National Stadium in Tokyo, he finished in last place, giving a thumbs up and a bright smile. Khudadadi, the first female Afghan paralympian since Athens 2004, lost her first-round match in taekwondo in the women’s 44-49-kilogram class to Ziyodakhon Isakova of Uzbekistan.  

Despite their unfortunate results, these two paralympians have managed to fulfill their dreams and provide an inspiring message to thousands of aspiring athletes across the world. 

Works Cited

Treisman, Rachel. “These Afghan Athletes Finally Made It From Kabul To The Paralympics” NPR, NPR, 31 Aug. 2021, 

Rich, Motoko. “How 2 Afghan Paralympians Defied the Odds to Get From Kabul to Tokyo” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 Aug. 2021, 

Wharton, David. “Afghanistan’s Paralympic athletes stay positive amid uncertain future” The Los Angeles Times, The Los Angeles Times, 4 Sept. 2021,