“I urge you all,” she said (via Reuters), “from the women around the globe, institutions for the protection of women, from all government organizations, to not let the rights of a female citizen of Afghanistan in the Paralympic movement to be taken away so easily.
“The fact that we ourselves have lifted ourselves from this situation, that we have achieved so much, it cannot be taken lightly. I have suffered a lot, I don’t want my struggle to be in vain and without any results. Help me.”
As U.S. military forces have withdrawn from the country, the Taliban asserted control over large parts of Afghanistan with stunning speed, culminating in Sunday’s retaking of the capital city of Kabul. Taliban fighters swept through the city as the U.S.-backed government collapsed, leading to a chaotic, deadly situation as thousands swarmed to Kabul’s international airport in desperate hopes of fleeing.
Of Afghanistan’s Paralympics delegation, including Khudadadi — a taekwondo competitor — and track athlete Hossain Rasouli, a spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee said Monday: “Due to the serious ongoing situation in the country, all airports are closed and there is no way for them to travel to Tokyo. We hope the team and officials remain safe and well during this difficult time.”
Arian Sadiqi, a London-based taekwondo instructor who was set to be chef de mission in Tokyo for Afghanistan’s National Paralympic Committee team, said an NPC member there told him “the situation is very critical and people are very wary and apprehensive.”
“Nobody was predicting this unprecedented, unexpected situation to unfold into a reality once again,” Sadiqi told The Washington Post on Monday in an electronic exchange. “But sadly, it is now a reality that has left the nation flabbergasted, helpless and vulnerable!”
Khudadadi might be in particular peril as a female athlete given the Taliban’s belief, often enforced through violence, that women should remain in traditional roles and attire. In 2019, another Afghan female taekwondo competitor told The Post that Taliban members would “probably shoot us” if they saw her and other women training alongside men in their Kabul gym.
The director of the women’s national soccer team for Afghanistan said Monday that her players have “left their houses to go to relatives and hide” because their neighbors know they are athletes.
“They are crying. … They are afraid,” Khalida Popal, who is based in Copenhagen after death threats over her public opposition to the Taliban forced her into exile, said in comments published by the Associated Press. “The Taliban is all over. They are going around creating fear. That breaks my heart because of all these years we have worked to raise the visibility of women, and now I’m telling my women in Afghanistan to shut up and disappear. Their lives are in danger.”
The Taliban, which dominated much of Afghanistan from 1996 until it was forced from power in 2001, staged so many executions and dismemberments at the city’s soccer stadium that when it was refurbished in 2008, a layer of soil over 1½-feet deep reportedly was removed to help ensure players weren’t treading on the blood and remains of former countrymen.
“I don’t know if I can still wear the proud name on my forehead and enter the field or not,” wrote Yousefi, a 25-year-old who was Afghanistan’s only female athlete in Tokyo last month and who also competed at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “… Dear people, the strong girls of my country, may God protect you.”
Afghanistan’s only medals in Olympic history were 2008 and 2012 bronzes won in taekwondo by Rohullah Nikpai, who was cited as an inspiration by the 23-year-old Khudadadi. A silver medalist in 2016 at the inaugural African Para-Taekwondo Championship held in Egypt, she was unable to attend qualifying events for the 2020 Paralympics because of coronavirus restrictions and a lack of funding, but organizers for the Tokyo event extended her an invitation to participate.
“I was thrilled after I received the news that I have got a wild card to compete at the Games,” she said last week, in comments shared by the International Paralympic Committee. “This is the first time that a female athlete will be representing Afghanistan at the [Paralympic] Games and I’m so happy.”
Along with Khudadadi’s remarks, the IPC also shared a statement last week from Sadiqi: “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.”
On Monday, Sadiqi said he was “very distressed and horrified with the situation and [feels] helpless,” in part because he has close family members in Afghanistan, where he was born.
“Our athletes’ dreams have been shattered and I am certain they are devastated [at] the fact that they are facing this horrible situation,” he wrote, “and also because they couldn’t participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.”