Afghanistan's state of upheaval has forced its Paralympic team to cancel plans to compete in the Tokyo Paralympics, after commercial flights out of the country were halted in the wake of the Taliban seizing control.
"Due to the serious ongoing situation in the country, all airports are closed and there is no way for them to travel to Tokyo," the International Paralympic Committee's press office told NPR. "We hope the team and officials remain safe and well during this difficult time."
It's the first time Afghanistan won't be represented at the Paralympics since the Sydney Games in 2000 — when the country was banned from competing due to the Taliban's oppressive treatment of women.
The Paralympics are set to begin next week, running from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5. With the Taliban overrunning the U.S.-backed government in a matter of days, it's uncertain when regular international travel might be reestablished in Afghanistan.
Thousands of Afghan civilians have been rushing to Kabul's international airport in recent days, desperate to flee the return of the Taliban's violence and harsh social laws. Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, got on a flight Sunday. President Biden has ordered thousands of additional troops to help bring home U.S. diplomats and other personnel.
Like other aspects of life, sports were redefined under the totalitarian rule imposed by the Taliban during its previous time in power. The group allowed and even encouraged sports such as soccer and cricket — but it also sometimes used stadiums to host public punishments and executions.