Tokyo 2020: Afghanistan withdraws from Paralympic Games due to travel issues amid govt. collapse

The two athletes who were set to compete for Afghanistan at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games have withdrawn after they were unable to leave Kabul amid the country's turmoil.

Taekwondo athlete Zakia Khudadadi and track athlete Hossain Rasouli were set to compete for Afghanistan. Khudadadi would have been the first woman to represent the country at a Paralympic Games when they start in Tokyo next week.

The Afghanistan Paralympic Committee's London-based Chef de Mission Arian Sadiqi told Reuters on Monday that the country's two athletes would not be able to attend the Games. Both athletes were set to arrive in Tokyo on Tuesday.

"Unfortunately due to the current upheaval going on in Afghanistan the team could not leave Kabul in time," Sadiqi said.

U.S. forces have taken over air traffic control at Kabul airport, where five died on Monday in chaotic scenes with reports of firing in the air and a stampede.

Taliban insurgents have overrun major cities and now control most of Afghanistan. The hardline Islamist movement was ousted in 2001, but has made sweeping military gains in recent months as foreign forces, led by the United States, withdrew.

Khudadadi was profiled on the Paralympic website last week talking about her hopes for the Games.

"I was thrilled after I received the news that I have got a wild card to compete at the Games," the 23-year-old said. "This is the first time that a female athlete will be representing Afghanistan at the Games and I'm so happy."

Sadiqi told Reuters the athletes had been trying to secure flights, but prices soared as the Taliban took over a string of cities, with departure from Kabul to Tokyo now impossible.

"They were really excited prior to the situation. They were training wherever they could, in the parks and back gardens," Sadiqi added.

"For me, it's heartbreaking. This would have been the first female Afghan taekwondo player to take part. This was history in the making. She was excited to take part. She was very passionate to compete.

"Zakia would have been a great role model for the rest of the females in the country."

Afghan athletes first competed at the 1996 Paralympic Games but have never won a medal.

Rohullah Nikpai became Afghanistan's first Olympic medallist in any sport when he won bronze in taekwondo at the 2008 Beijing Games, repeating the feat at London 2012.