Afghans head to Tokyo with message of hope and peace
‘I just want to be there with the other athletes from the world and give my best’10 Aug 2021
WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE: Zakia Khudadadi during a training session ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
By ND Prashant I For the IPC
These are uncertain times for the people of Afghanistan and more so, for the two Para athletes who are on the threshold of their dream debut at Tokyo.
Despite the chaos and distress within the country, Para taekwondo athletes Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli are staying upbeat and drawing inspiration from their eternals, waiting to march at the Paralympic Opening Ceremony with a message of hope and peace.
Khudadadi shot into limelight as an 18-year-old from the Herat province after she won the 1st African 2016 Para-Taekwondo Championships held in Egypt. She will be the second woman athlete to ever represent Afghanistan at the Paralympic Games after Mareena Karim, who competed at the Paralympic Games in 100m T46 in 2004 Athens Paralympic Games.
Post-taliban regime, Khudadadi born with a disability, had broken the conservative stereotypes where men and women, interacting professionally or for sports was labelled as taboo.
“I was thrilled after I received the news that I have got a wild card to compete at the Games. This is the first time that a female athlete will be representing Afghanistan at the Games and I’m so happy,” said the 23-year-old, adding, the first thought that came to her mind was will she have enough time to prepare for the Games.
“I was surprised but worried as well as I had just two months to prepare for the Games with almost no facilities,” said Khudadadi, who picked up the sport after watching her compatriot Rohullah Nikpai create Olympic history with a bronze each in taekwondo at Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games.
“I clearly recall watching Nikpai notch up medals for Afghanistan. I was inspired by him and decided to take up the sport and thankfully, my family also supported me,” said Khudadadi, well aware that an uncertain future lay ahead of her but for now wants to lead by example.
“I just want to be there with the other athletes from the world and give my best. It is an opportunity to show my ability and I will be so proud to stand with all of those athletes,” asserted Kudadadi, who will be competing in the K44 category.
Afghanistan made its Paralympic debut at Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games and with the exception of the Sydney 2000, they have participated in every edition but have never won a Paralympic medal.
At the Rio 2016 Games, they represented with a lone athlete Mohammad Durani, who competed in javelin throw.
This time round, along with Kudadadi, 24-year-old Rasouli, who lost his left arm in a mine blast, will also be making his Paralympic debut. He too echoed the similar sentiments as Kudadadi.
“It is a dream to participate at Tokyo Games and I want to win a medal for the country. I know that other Para athletes from different countries would have prepared themselves very well, but I will try my best to get in a good position,” said Rasouli, whose training regime is mainly restricted to his backyard or on the hills nearby.
Chef de Mission Arian Sadiqi, too highlighted the Para athletes were a boost for the Paralympic Movement in the country, amid the heightened security situation.
“The Games are very important for our athletes and the Paralympic Movement in Afghanistan because it is these Para athletes who are the role models. Their presence at Tokyo will encourage and motivate others with disabilities to take part in Para sport and drive the Movement.
“Irrespective of the situation, our Para athletes are doing incredibly well and preparing with limited resources. It will be a huge learning curve for them and NPC Afghanistan,” felt Sadiqi.
“Due to the security situation in our country, lack of funding and support from the government and COVID-19, we could not take our Para athletes for qualification events. However, Hossain and Zakia now have that opportunity.
“I strongly believe that through the Paralympic Movement and the Paralympic Games we all can voice and deliver the message of co-existence for humanity, to keep and cherish peace as quarrels and negative feelings destroy humankind.”