SYDNEY (AP) — Olympic sprinter Kimia Yousofi has arrived in Australia to start afresh just over a year after carrying the Afghan flag at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games, competing in the 100 meters, then had to watch from afar the Taliban regained control of his country.
The Australian Olympic Committee said on Wednesday that Yousofi and Asian Games taekwondo medalist Ahmad Abasy, an activist for the inclusion of women in sport, were among members of five Afghan families linked to the Olympic movement who recently arrived in Australia.
“It’s been a journey for me but I’m very happy to be here,” Yousofi said in a statement. “I’m basically starting a new life here.”
Yousofi, who arrived with her mother and one of her three brothers, is aiming to compete in the 2024 Olympics in Paris, either for Afghanistan or for the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.
Yousofi was living in Iran when she was selected for the Afghan team to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where she carried the flag in the opening ceremony. She had the same honor in Tokyo last year and hopes, despite another relocation, to have another chance.
“I’m going to train very hard and it would be exciting to go to Paris,” she said. “I will definitely be competing.”
She also thanked those who helped resettle her family and said she was still seeking visas for two of her brothers.
The group with Olympic links joins more than 100 other Afghan athletes, including footballers and cricketers, who resettled in Australia last year after the Taliban took control amid the withdrawal of the US military of Kabul after 20 years of war.
The Taliban marked Monday a year since they seized the Afghan capital. Former insurgents are struggling to govern and remain internationally isolated, while the economic downturn has pushed millions more Afghans into poverty.
The Taliban-led government has also imposed restrictions on access to education and employment for girls and women, despite initial promises to the contrary. Teenage girls are banned from school and women are required to cover themselves from head to toe in public, only the eyes are visible.
Abasy, who competed internationally and trained in taekwondo, said girls and women in his country were “denied the right to sport”.
“It’s a great loss for Afghan sport and for the world,” Abasy said. “Afghan girls have good talent in sports and have made significant achievements that should not be ignored.
“Afghan girls should actively participate in international competitions, and we will see one of the Afghan girls win a…medal. I will fight for their rights.”
The Australian Olympic Committee has worked with the Home Office to secure visas and flights for Afghan families and with sponsors for financial support and assistance with housing and employment.
“For the families involved, the stress and uncertainty during this time has been enormous,” AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said in the statement. “These brave people have endured great hardships. “It’s a proud moment for the Olympic movement in Australia that we have them here, safe and settled.”
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