As the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games begin on Tuesday night in Japan, the Afghan flag will be flown as a symbol of “solidarity and peace.”
The 16th Summer Paralympics, which have been postponed for a year due to the pandemic, will take place in the midst of Japan’s worst outbreak of Covid-19, with spectators barred from the majority of events and Tokyo and surrounding prefectures declared disaster zones due to rising case numbers.
President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Andrew Parsons said on the eve of Tuesday’s opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo that he was confident the Paralympics would be held safely.
“One of the questions I am asked very often is, ‘can we have safe Games?’ and the answer is yes, we would not be here if we did not believe we could deliver safe Games,” he said.
Despite Afghan athletes withdrawing from the Games due to flight cancellations, Parsons confirmed that Afghanistan’s flag will be included in the opening ceremony parade.
Following the Taliban’s seizure of the capital, Kabul’s airport has been the focus of international attention this week, with thousands of people attempting to flee the new regime.
“We will include the Afghanistan flag in the ceremony in a sign of solidarity and we have invited the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative here to act as the flagbearer,” Parsons told reporters.
“It is important to highlight that as it is a message of solidarity and peace that we send to the world,” he added.
“We would like to have them here, unfortunately it is not possible, but they will be here in spirit.”
The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan is seen as a threat to the country’s sporting ambitions, with athletes fearing punishment for competing.
Last week, the IPC said it was “supportive of the practice of sport as a basic human right” in a statement to CNN Sport.
“Every individual should have the possibility to play sport and no-one should be discriminated against because of their disability, gender, sexual preference, race or religion,” it added.
Japan said goodbye to thousands of athletes earlier this month after an Olympics that was widely regarded as a success despite a slew of scandals and a spike in coronavirus cases in the country.
The hosts are now preparing to welcome tens of thousands more athletes as the Paralympic Games begin on August 5 and run until September 5.
During the Olympics, there were no spectators for 97 percent of the competitions — including all Tokyo venues, with limited capacity in several other prefectures — and organizers announced last week that the Paralympics would also be held behind closed doors due to the pandemic.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, Japan has reported nearly 435,000 Covid-19 cases and 577 deaths in the last 28 days. On Monday, Tokyo, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, confirmed 2,447 new cases, down 515 from the previous week’s same day. It was the first time in two days that the capital’s daily tally fell below the previous week’s corresponding day.