Heartbreaking moment Afghan flag flies at Paralympics with no athletes behind it

The flag of Afghanistan flying at the Paralympics opening ceremony (Channel 4)
The flag of Afghanistan flying at the Paralympics opening ceremony (Channel 4)

Footage has emerged showing the heartbreaking sight of the Afghan flag flying at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games with no athletes standing behind it.

Taekwondo competitor Zakia Khudadadi and track athlete Hossain Rasouli were the only two athletes set to represent the country at the Games in Japan, which started on Tuesday.

However, it was confirmed last week that the two athletes would no longer be competing in the competition since they are unable to leave Afghanistan following the Taliban's seizure of power on 15 August.

Khudadadi, 23, had been set to become the country’s first female Paralympian and the first female athlete from Afghanistan to compete at the Games since 2004.

Read: Taliban says women should stay at home for their own safety

The 23-year-old had previously told the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) that she was "thrilled"to be the first woman since Athens 2004 to compete.

Meanwhile, Rasouli, 24, who lost his left arm in a mine blast, was also set to make his Paralympic debut, calling the opportunity a "dream".

Last Monday, it was confirmed that neither athlete had been able to take their scheduled flight out of the country.

In a sign of solidarity to the Afghan athletes, the IPC tweeted a photo of the flag being raised during the opening ceremony.

Watch: Afghan athlete pleads to go to Paralympics

IPC president Andrew Parsons told Reuters last week said: "There are no commercial flights. We all have seen the images from the airport in Kabul.

"It became clear to us right from the beginning that there will be no safe way to try to bring these athletes to Tokyo."

On Monday, Khudadadi said in a video message from Kabul, provided to Reuters, that she felt "imprisoned" as she pleaded for help.

"I request from you all, that I am an Afghan woman and as a representative of Afghan women ask for you to help me," she said.

"My intention is to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, please hold my hand and help me.

"I urge you all, from the women around the globe, institutions for the protection of women, from all government organisations, to not let the rights of a female citizen of Afghanistan in the Paralympic movement to be taken away so easily.

"The fact that we ourselves have lifted ourselves from this situation, that we have achieved so much, it cannot be taken lightly. I have suffered a lot, I don't want my struggle to be in vain and without any results. Help me."

It comes as the Paralympic Games began on Tuesday after the Olympics ended earlier this month.

Like the Olympics, the Tokyo Paralympics are taking place largely without spectators as coronavirus continues to spread in the country.

Japan has extended COVID-19 emergency measures in the capital and other regions that will run through the Games.

Tokyo announced 4,377 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, after a record 5,773 on Friday.

Watch: Tokyo Paralympics open with fireworks display