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Afghan turmoil leaves Paralympic athletes unable to compete; Cricket series in doubt

PANJSHIR: Humvee vehicles from the Afghan Security Forces are pictured in Panjshir province in Afghanistan yesterday. – AFP

TOKYO: Afghanistan’s Paralympic team will not participate in the Games in Tokyo next week because they are trapped in the country, the International Paralympic Committee said yesterday. The Taleban have in recent days capped a military victory that saw them bring a swift end to the 20-year war in the country. Just two Para athletes from Afghanistan were scheduled to compete in the Games — taekwondo athletes Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli.

Khudadadi, 23, was to be the first woman ever to represent Afghanistan at the Paralympics. But the IPC confirmed yesterday that with the Taleban takeover, the two athletes would no longer be able to travel to 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.”

There was no word on whether the IPC had been asked to try to assist teammembers, or was making efforts to do so. “We hope the team and officials remain safe and well during this difficult time,” Spence said. Just one week ago, the two athletes were profiled on the IPC’s website, with the country’s chef de mission Arian Sadiqi saying the Games offered a chance to “deliver the message of coexistence for humanity”.

Cricket series in doubt
Elsewhere, officials scrambled yesterday to find out whether Afghanistan’s cricketers were safe, as Sri Lanka’s national board said it was going ahead with arrangements to host a T20 series between Afghanistan and Pakistan. No official was able to guarantee however that the three Twenty20 matches would start on September 1 after the Taleban swept to power. The team are also scheduled to play in the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in October which could also now be in doubt. The Taleban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001 frowned upon organized sport.

Star spin bowler and T20 captain Rashid Khan and all rounder Mohammad Nabi are currently playing The Hundred tournament in England. Both made pleas for peace in their country before the Taleban takeover. But most other national players are in Afghanistan. “Efforts are being made to check their whereabouts,” said an international cricket official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Sri Lanka’s cricket board said it was still hoping to host Afghanistan and Pakistan for the three matches in an empty stadium at Hambantota.

The series was originally to be held in Dubai but was shifted to Sri Lanka because it clashed with the Indian Premier League which also starts in September in the UAE. “We have told them that we are ready to host the tournament,” Sri Lanka Cricket secretary Mohan de Silva told AFP. “All the preparations are underway. But, given the current situation in Kabul, we don’t know if they will be able to go ahead. We are awaiting a response from them.”

De Silva said that because of coronavirus precautions, the two teams should be in Sri Lanka by next week to begin the matches in September. The Afghanistan Cricket Board website said its national squad met top officials on August 7 and were told that they would be “rewarded handsomely” for a good performance against Pakistan. In its latest postdated August 9, the board said it had appointed former Australian fast bowler Shaun Tait as the national team bowling coach. – AFP


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