Paralympic Games: Afghan flag to be presented at opening ceremony as a sign of “solidarity”

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The 16th Summer Paralympic Games – delayed for a year due to the pandemic – will take place amid Japan’s worst Covid-19 outbreak, with spectators banned from the majority of events and from Tokyo and surrounding prefectures under state of emergency due to increasing number of cases.

Speaking on the eve of Tuesday’s opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons said he was determined the Paralympic Games would be safe and secure.

“One of the questions I get asked very often is, ‘Can we have safe Games? and the answer is yes, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think we could deliver safe games, “he said.

Parsons confirmed that the Afghan flag will be incorporated into the Opening Ceremony parade despite the withdrawal of Afghan athletes from the Games due to the cancellation of flights from the country.

Kabul airport has been the center of world attention this week after the Taliban captured the capital as thousands tried to flee the new regime.
“We will include the flag of Afghanistan in the ceremony as a sign of solidarity and we have invited the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees here to act as the flag bearer,” Parsons told reporters.

“It is important to stress this because it is a message of solidarity and peace that we send to the world,” he added.

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

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is seen as a threat to the country’s sporting ambitions, with sportswomen fearing punishment for trying to compete.

In a statement to CNN Sport last week, the IPC said it supports the practice of sport as a basic human right.

“Every individual should have the opportunity to play sports and no one should be discriminated against because of their disability, gender, sexual preferences, race or religion,” he added.

READ: After 72 surgeries, Paralympian says ‘body and mind are stronger than you can imagine’
Fireworks are lit to close the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on August 8.
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Covid epidemic

Earlier this month, Japan bade farewell to thousands of athletes after an Olympics widely regarded as a success despite a litany of scandals and the backdrop of rising coronavirus cases in the country.

The hosts are now ready to welcome thousands of additional athletes as the Paralympic Games begin, which will run through September 5.

There was an absence of spectators for 97% of competitions during the Olympics – including at all venues in Tokyo, with limited capacity in several other prefectures – and last week organizers said the Paralympic Games would be would also be held behind closed doors amid the pandemic.

Japan has reported nearly 435,000 cases of Covid-19 and 577 deaths in the past 28 days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Tokyo, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, confirmed 2,447 new cases on Monday, down 515 from the same day last week. It was the first time in two days that the daily count for the capital had fallen below the corresponding day of the previous week.

On August 17, the Japanese government extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas until September 12 as cases skyrocketed.

“The Delta variant which is raging across the world is causing unprecedented cases in our country,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.

“Serious cases are increasing rapidly and are taking a heavy toll on the medical system, especially in the capital region.”

This means athletes will have to compete without family or friends in the stadium, something some competitors at the Olympics have said they have struggled with.

Nonetheless, Paralympic triathlete Melissa Stockwell, one of the American team’s flagship bearers, said she looks forward to making the most of it.

“It was pretty hard to learn that family and friends weren’t going to be allowed at the Games,” Stockwell told CNN.

“I had these images of running to the finish line with my husband and kids on the side shouting, ‘Go ahead, mom, go!’ and that will not happen and it is very unfortunate.

“I think as far as my family is concerned, they are not there physically but they are there in my head, and I will always hear those cries of” Come on, mum, come on “in my head as I run this arrival. ”

READ: Afghanistan’s first Olympian says women won’t easily give up their freedoms
The flag bearers of the Afghanistan team during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Paralympic debut

Despite the very real threat posed by the pandemic, organizers insist they can still host a safe and successful Paralympic Games, underscoring the relative success of the Olympics.

The same strict precautions will be in effect with athletes confined to small social bubbles and required to undergo extensive testing.

But fans can still be excited to see athletes compete in 22 different sports, with badminton and taekwondo making their Paralympic debuts.

Bhutan, Grenada, Maldives, Paraguay and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines will also participate in the Paralympic Games for the first time, with 162 delegations ready to participate.

There are three more nations competing in Tokyo than in Rio 2016, but London 2012 still holds the Paralympic record, with 164 participating delegations.

“It’s always special to see a NPC (National Paralympic Committees) make their first appearance at the Paralympic Games,” said Parsons.

“With all the challenges created by the pandemic, seeing these NPCs as part of the opening ceremony on August 24 will be a very special and moving time for all concerned.”

Refugee team

Among the competing federations is the Refugee Paralympic Team, which consists of six athletes – one woman and five men.

The IPC says the group “represents the more than 82 million people around the world who have been forced to flee war, persecution and human rights violations – 12 million of whom live with disabilities.”

Bayern Munich football star Alphonso Davies wrote an open letter to the refugee team ahead of the competition, saying those involved were an inspiration.
“Not everyone understands the trip you took,” wrote Davies, who was himself a refugee before his family moved to Canada. “But I do, and it’s a big part of what made me who I am.

“I read your stories and learned about the journeys you have all been on. You are currently the bravest sports team in the world.

“One of the things I know about sport is its power to change lives. You are all role models now with the power to inspire others. Make no mistake, what you are about to do. doing in Tokyo will change people’s lives.

“There are going to be young people who are going to play sports because of you.”

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