Paralympics: IPC says just-arrived Afghan duo to focus on Tokyo Games, no media access

Zakia Khudadadi (left) and Hossain Rasouli had expressed a wish not to speak to the media and this would be respected. PHOTOS: PARALYMPIC GAMES/FACEBOOK, PARALYMPIC.ORG

TOKYO (REUTERS, AFP) - The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said on Sunday (Aug 29) that the well-being and mental health of two newly arrived Afghan athletes are its top priority, and the pair will not be speaking to the media during the Paralympic Games.

Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli arrived in Tokyo on Saturday to compete in the 2020 Paralympics after Khudadadi made a video appeal for help to leave Kabul after the Taleban swept to power.

The two athletes met IPC president Andrew Parsons and other officials on arrival at the village, the IPC's chief communications officer, Craig Spence, told a news conference.

"The meeting was extremely emotional, there were lots of tears from everyone in the room. It was remarkable, it really was a remarkable meeting," Spence said.

Khudadadi and Rasouli had expressed a wish not to speak to the media and this would be respected.

"This is about these athletes fulfilling their dream of being able to attend the Paralympic Games," Spence said.

"And because human life is the most important thing, and the well-being and mental health of the athletes is our top priority, the athletes will be doing no media during these Games."

Spence said the organisers wanted to avoid "a selfie fest" with other athletes taking pictures in the village, but stressed that the pair would be allowed to mingle.

"We're not saying, 'You shouldn't just stay in your apartments and not go out'," he said.

"We're saying, 'once you've gone through your three-day quarantine, you need to fulfil this experience of being at the Athletes' Village'."

The Tokyo Paralympics are taking place under strict coronavirus rules and largely behind closed doors, after a year's delay because of the pandemic.

In Afghanistan, the Taleban have promised a softer brand of rule compared with their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But many Afghans fear a repeat of their brutal interpretation of Islamic law.

Khudadadi, a taekwondo athlete, and track athlete Rasouli were evacuated from the Afghan capital a week ago. They departed the Taleban-controlled country last weekend in a "major global operation" and landed in Tokyo on a flight from Paris, where the pair spent a week at a French sports ministry training centre.

The pair had been due to arrive in Japan on Aug 17, but were unable to leave Afghanistan after thousands of people rushed to Kabul's airport in a bid to flee the country.

Paralympic officials had said initially the Afghan athletes would be unable to attend the Games, which started on Aug 24, and promised to help them participate in the next Games in 2024 in Paris.

Separately, the World Taekwondo (WT) association praised the efforts of the IPC and other parties involved to ensure the two athletes could take part in the Games.

"Zakia and Hossain's determination to overcome adversity is an inspiration to all of us," WT president Choue Chung-won said in a statement.

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