Three Afghans, including 2 women, chosen for Olympics Refugee Team
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday announced the names of the athletes who will represent the IOC Refugee Olympic Team at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021 and three of them are Afghans.
Afghan Voice Agency (AVA)_The 29 athletes come from 11 countries, including Afghanistan, and were selected by the IOC’s Executive Board from an initial group of 55 IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holders.
“The refugee athletes are an enrichment for all of us in the entire Olympic community,” IOC President Thomas Bach said at the virtual ceremony from Lausanne.
“The reasons we created this team still exist. We have more forcibly displaced people in the world right now, and therefore it went without saying that we wanted to create an IOC Refugee Olympic Team for the Tokyo 2020 ”.
“The athletes represent not only themselves, not only the IOC, but also all refugees in the world,” IOC Refugee Olympic Team Chef de Mission Tegla Loroupe added. “Let’s bring solidarity, as we are solidarity people.
“Our universal language is sport, let’s go and bring joy.”
The three hard-working Afghan refugees, including two women, are Abdullah Sediqi (Taekwondo Men’s 68kg); Masomah Ali Zada (Cycling Women’s Road) and Nigara Shaheen (Judo Women’s Mixed team).
Sediqi is based in Belgium, Zada is in France and Shaheen is in Russia.
Sediqi has relied on taekwondo to get him by since he was eight years old.
In an interview with the IOC recently Sediqi said the sport, which he now practises in Belgium, has been a guiding light through difficult times, first when escaping from his home country four years ago and then again through the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was a gruelling mission, there were days I walked for 12 hours straight,” he said of his escape.
Now established in Wilrijk, a neighbourhood of Antwerp, the 24-year-old is focusing on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games this summer in 2021.
While Sediqi is fully focussed on his dream of going to the Olympic Games, the real world provided an emotional blow to him this past year.
In a recent interview with Taekwondo Vlaanderen (Flanders Taekwondo), he revealed that he was not able to see his mother before her death from coronavirus in Afghanistan.
“My mother died of coronavirus six months ago,” he said. “Her death was difficult for me – I had not seen her since my arrival in Belgium. Suddenly, you are told she is seriously ill; a while later she was gone.
Masomah Ali Zada
For Zada, it all changed when a French TV show aired called “Les Petites Reines de Kaboul” (“The Little Queens of Kabul”).
Along with her sister Zahra, the documentary showed the difficulties of cycling as a female in her home country.
“In Afghanistan, men think it’s unsuitable for a woman to ride a bike,” said Zada to France24.
According to the IOC, after watching the programme, a retired French lawyer called Patrick Communal arranged for them to come to France on a humanitarian visa and made a successful application for asylum.
“It’s very easy for men and women here to ride a bike,” Zada said.
Both sisters are enrolled at the University of Lille and Masomah Zada has been invited on the IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship programme.
Aged 24, she is training hard in northern France ahead of the Olympics.
“By taking part in the Olympic Games, I want to convince those who think a woman on a bicycle is inappropriate or find it strange that a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf is a cyclist that no, it’s normal,” Zada said to Paris Match.
Born in Afghanistan, Shaheen is a competing in the under 70kg category.
She started practising judo when she was 11, living as a refugee in Peshawar, Pakistan, as practising martial arts was a family tradition.
She is studying international trade at a university in Ekaterinburg, in Russia, and is aiming to get her master’s degree.
As a member of the IJF Refugee Team, she participated in the Düsseldorf Grand Slam in 2020 and the Kazan Grand Slam in 2021.
The three Afghans will take their spots alongside the other refugee athletes for the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Games on 23 July 2021. The team will enter the brand new Japan National Stadium with the Olympic flag in second position, immediately after Greece.
The team will stay in the Olympic village, like all the other 206 National Olympic Committees taking part, and continue to receive IOC support after the Games.
For all official representations of the team (including possible medal ceremonies), the Olympic flag will be raised and the Olympic anthem will be played.
Tokyo 2020 President Hashimoto Seiko said: “The 2020 Organising Committee welcomes the participation of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, following its debut at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
“The participation of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team in the Tokyo 2020 Games, which will be both a festival of sport and a celebration of peace, will draw the world’s attention to the issue of refugees and further advance efforts to achieve world peace through the elimination of the wars and conflicts that cause people to flee their homeland.”