Afghanistan’s flag bearer at the Tokyo 2020 Games and other prominent women’s sports campaigners have been safely relocated to Australia following a year-long Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) project.
Two-time Olympics sprinter and flag bearer Kimia Yousofi, her mother and one of her three brothers were among five Afghan families with Olympic links to land in Australia this week.
In all, 31 family members have arrived in Australia, the first in early June and the most recent last week.
The initiative comes after Kabul’s fall to the Taliban last year placed them in significant risk, given their support for the participation of women in sport and education.
Yousofi, who had already fled Afghanistan for Iran with her parents in 1996, hopes her other brothers will be granted visas to join her as she pushes for a third Games appearance at Paris 2024.
There she could represent either Afghanistan, if the Taliban government supports fielding a team of men and women, or the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Refugee Team.
“It’s been a journey for me but I am very happy to be here,” she said.
Flag bearers Kimia Yousofi (left) and Farzad Mansouri of Team Afghanistan lead their team during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Source: Getty / Matthias Hangst
“I am essentially starting a new life here. I am going to be training very hard and it would be exciting to go to Paris – I am definitely going to be competing.
“Thank you to the government of Australia and the Australian Olympic Committee and everyone for helping to get my family here.”
Afghan taekwondo representative Ahmad Abasy has coached and promoted his sport with a focus on creating opportunities for young women.
“Sport is the natural right of every human being, regardless of their gender,” he said on arrival in Australia.
“Unfortunately, now in Afghanistan, sports have a gender perspective and girls are denied the right to sports. This is a great loss for the sport of Afghanistan and the world.
“Afghan girls have good talent in sports and have made significant achievements in the sports sector that should not be ignored.
“I believe that it is not enough for girls to participate in sports only in parks and sports clubs.
“Afghan girls should actively participate in international competitions, and we will witness one of the Afghan girls winning a world Olympic medal. I will fight for their rights.”
The AOC worked with the Department of Home Affairs to secure visas, flights and transfers while also providing financial support and other resources while they awaited approval and long-term accommodation and employment.
“For the families involved, the stress and uncertainty over this time has been enormous,” AOC boss Matt Carroll said.
“These brave people have endured significant hardship and we are so pleased that our efforts have been successful.
“It’s a proud moment for the Olympic movement in Australia that we have them here, safe and settling well.”