Paralympics Afghanistan
24 August 2021, Japan, Tokio: Paralympics: Opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium. The flag of Afghanistan is presented by volunteers at the Paralympics. Photo: Marcus Brandt/dpa (Photo by Marcus Brandt/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games opened to an empty stadium overnight. But despite the absence of fans, the evening displayed an overwhelming sense of camaraderie. Amid an inclusive cast of dancers, colourful pyrotechnics and elaborate sets, the single moment that stopped viewers in their tracks was the lone flag of Afghanistan, still flown in at the parade. No athletes from the country were in attendance and yet, the International Paralympic Committee honoured the athletes nonetheless.

After the Taliban stormed Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul last week, people of the country are forced to flee or hide in shelter. Two athletes were set to represent the country; taekwondo competitor Zakia Khudadadi and discus thrower Hossain Rasouli. Khuadadadi was set to be the first woman ever to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympics.

In a video message, shared on the Afghanistan Paralympic Committee Facebook page, the athlete revealed she was was “imprisoned inside the house” in Kabul.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympics Opening Ceremony
TOKYO, JAPAN – AUGUST 24: Fireworks explode over the stadium during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

On Monday the IPC confirmed the two athletes would not travel to Tokyo, Japan.

“Regrettably NPC (National Paralympic Committee) Afghanistan will no longer participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games,” IPC spokesman Craig Spence said. “Due to the serious ongoing situation in the country, all airports are closed and there is no way for them to travel to Tokyo.”

The tribute to Afghanistan was also announced on Monday.

“We will include the Afghanistan flag in the ceremony in a sign of solidarity,” International Paralympic Committee spokesperson, Andrew Parsons, said. “It is important to highlight that as it is a message of solidarity and peace that we send to the world.

“We would like to have them here, unfortunately it is not possible, but they will be here in spirit.”

The Tokyo 2021 Paralympics will run from August 25 to September 5. Here, GRAZIA speaks with Paralympian Jaryd Clifford who is set to run in the 5000m, 1500m and marathon.