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Three Afghans, including 2 women, chosen for Olympics Refugee Team

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(Last Updated On: June 9, 2021)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday announced the names of the athletes who will represent the IOC Refugee Olympic Team at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021 and three of them are Afghans.

The 29 athletes come from 11 countries, including Afghanistan, and were selected by the IOC’s Executive Board from an initial group of 55 IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holders.

“The refugee athletes are an enrichment for all of us in the entire Olympic community,” IOC President Thomas Bach said at the virtual ceremony from Lausanne.

“The reasons we created this team still exist. We have more forcibly displaced people in the world right now, and therefore it went without saying that we wanted to create an IOC Refugee Olympic Team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics”.

“The athletes represent not only themselves, not only the IOC, but also all refugees in the world,” IOC Refugee Olympic Team Chef de Mission Tegla Loroupe added. “Let’s bring solidarity, as we are solidarity people.

“Our universal language is sport, let’s go and bring joy.”

The three hard-working Afghan refugees, including two women, are Abdullah Sediqi (Taekwondo Men’s 68kg); Masomah Ali Zada (Cycling Women’s Road) and Nigara Shaheen (Judo Women’s Mixed team).

Sediqi is based in Belgium, Zada is in France and Shaheen is in Russia.

Abdullah Sediqi

Sediqi has relied on taekwondo to get him by since he was eight years old.

In an interview with the IOC recently Sediqi said the sport, which he now practises in Belgium, has been a guiding light through difficult times, first when escaping from his home country four years ago and then again through the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was a gruelling mission, there were days I walked for 12 hours straight,” he said of his escape.

Now established in Wilrijk, a neighbourhood of Antwerp, the 24-year-old is focusing on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games this summer in 2021.

While Sediqi is fully focussed on his dream of going to the Olympic Games, the real world provided an emotional blow to him this past year.

In a recent interview with Taekwondo Vlaanderen (Flanders Taekwondo), he revealed that he was not able to see his mother before her death from coronavirus in Afghanistan.

“My mother died of coronavirus six months ago,” he said. “Her death was difficult for me – I had not seen her since my arrival in Belgium. Suddenly, you are told she is seriously ill; a while later she was gone.

Masomah Ali Zada

For Zada, it all changed when a French TV show aired called “Les Petites Reines de Kaboul” (“The Little Queens of Kabul”).

Along with her sister Zahra, the documentary showed the difficulties of cycling as a female in her home country.

“In Afghanistan, men think it’s unsuitable for a woman to ride a bike,” said Zada to France24.

According to the IOC, after watching the programme, a retired French lawyer called Patrick Communal arranged for them to come to France on a humanitarian visa and made a successful application for asylum.

“It’s very easy for men and women here to ride a bike,” Zada said.

Both sisters are enrolled at the University of Lille and Masomah Zada has been invited on the IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship programme.

Aged 24, she is training hard in northern France ahead of the Olympics.

“By taking part in the Olympic Games, I want to convince those who think a woman on a bicycle is inappropriate or find it strange that a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf is a cyclist that no, it’s normal,” Zada said to Paris Match.

Nigara Shaheen

Born in Afghanistan, Shaheen is a judoka competing in the under 70kg category.

She started practising judo when she was 11, living as a refugee in Peshawar, Pakistan, as practising martial arts was a family tradition.

She is studying international trade at a university in Ekaterinburg, in Russia, and is aiming to get her master’s degree.

As a member of the IJF Refugee Team, she participated in the Düsseldorf Grand Slam in 2020 and the Kazan Grand Slam in 2021.

The three Afghans will take their spots alongside the other refugee athletes for the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Games on 23 July 2021. The team will enter the brand new Japan National Stadium with the Olympic flag in second position, immediately after Greece.

The team will stay in the Olympic village, like all the other 206 National Olympic Committees taking part, and continue to receive IOC support after the Games.

For all official representations of the team (including possible medal ceremonies), the Olympic flag will be raised and the Olympic anthem will be played.

Tokyo 2020 President Hashimoto Seiko said: “The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee welcomes the participation of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, following its debut at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.

“The participation of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team in the Tokyo 2020 Games, which will be both a festival of sport and a celebration of peace, will draw the world’s attention to the issue of refugees and further advance efforts to achieve world peace through the elimination of the wars and conflicts that cause people to flee their homeland.”

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Afghanistan’s football boss contracts COVID-19

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(Last Updated On: June 15, 2021)

Mohammad Yousef Kargar, Head of Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF), has contracted COVID-19, the AFF said in a statement on Tuesday.

According to the AFF, Kargar is currently in quarantine.

Afghanistan National Football Team will meanwhile face India on Tuesday for the final match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.

The match will kick off at 6:30 pm Kabul time in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

Afghanistan missed going through to the next stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup after it lost 2-1 to Oman on Friday.

Afghanistan will however qualify for the 2023 AFC Asian if it defeats India in Tuesday’s match.

Afghanistan, so far, with five points, has secured fourth place in Group E while India stands at third place with six points.

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Soccer-Italy put on a show with win over Turkey in Euro 2020 opener

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(Last Updated On: June 12, 2021)

Italy kicked off the European Championship in emphatic style on Friday as they delivered a commanding performance to sweep past toothless Turkey 3-0 in the Stadio Olimpico and stamp their early authority on Group A.

After a goalless first half, an own goal and strikes by Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne were just reward for the home side, who played with relentless positivity from the start.

Their dispiriting failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup looked a distant memory as they stretched their unbeaten run to 28 matches in a buoyant atmosphere.

They were helped by a flat display from Turkey, who lost their fifth consecutive opening match of a European Championship finals and barely mustered a worthwhile attack all night.

“It was important to start well here in Rome and it is a joy for us and for all the Italians,” said coach Roberto Mancini.

“We produced a good performance and I think we satisfied everyone, for the fans and all the Italians watching. (But) there are six games to go and there are a lot of good teams.”

Switzerland and Wales, who meet in the group’s second game in Baku on Saturday, always knew Italy were the group favourites but the size of their task has suddenly looked somewhat bigger.

After a build-up featuring a spine-tingling rendition of Nessun Dorma by opera singer Andrea Bocelli – channelling thoughts of Italia ’90 – a spectacular fireworks display and a typically raucous rendition of Italy’s national anthem, the 16,000-strong crowd was in fine voice by kick-off.

They were given plenty to cheer too as Italy made all the early running against a Turkish team happy to sit deep and invite pressure.

However, Mancini’s side were left frustrated in their efforts to break through the wall of red shirts.

Giorgio Chiellini had a header tipped over with a spectacular one-handed save by Ugurcan Cakir and Immobile nodded a cross wide as Italy went in at the break with 14 attempts to none from Turkey – but without a goal.

They kept probing and their patience was rewarded when Berardi fired a cross into the six-yard box where Demiral chested the ball into the net – the first time in a European Championship that the tournament’s opening goal was an own goal.

The ever-dangerous Leonardo Spinazzola had a shot beaten away and Manuel Locatelli’s low effort was palmed wide before Immobile doubled Italy’s lead by pouncing on Cakir’s parry from another Spinazzola effort to neatly knock in the rebound.

The Azzurri’s dominance was rewarded again when Immobile threaded a pass to Insigne, who placed a precise finish into the bottom corner with 11 minutes remaining.

It marked the first time Italy had scored three goals in a match at the Euros at their 39th attempt and capped a perfect start.

Mancini had told his players they should enjoy themselves and seek to entertain and that was exactly what they did for a jubilant home crowd.

There was only gloom in the visiting camp as veteran coach Senol Gunes, who led Turkey to third place at the 2002 World Cup, apologised for the performance.

“I was expecting a better game, and I am disappointed and we are sorry,” he said. “Italy totally controlled the game.”

On June 16, Italy face Switzerland in Rome and Turkey take on Wales in Baku in the second round of Group A games.

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JOC executive says Tokyo Games should be held without spectators

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(Last Updated On: June 11, 2021)

One of Japan’s sporting legends and an executive of the country’s Olympic committee said on Friday the Tokyo Games should be held without spectators to ensure the safety of the public and accused the organisers of using a “double standard”.

The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) board member Kaori Yamaguchi, an Olympic judo medallist, said the government was “confusing” the people by asking them to stay at home and imposing curbs while putting on the global sports showpiece.

Polls have shown most Japanese oppose holding the Games this year, worried about a slow vaccination rollout and the flood of athletes and officials from overseas. Japan has effectively been closed to foreign visitors since the pandemic broke out.

“There’s this fear inside everyone that if people start moving around Japan again, the infections would spread right at the time when they have peaked out and people can live safe lives again,” said Yamaguchi, one of the few lone voices openly critical of the Olympics in the world of Japanese sports.

“If we were to limit the virus and be careful about it, I’d say we should hold the Games without spectators,” Yamaguchi told Reuters in a Zoom interview.

Already postponed from last year because of the pandemic, a scaled-down version of the Games with no foreign spectators is set to start on July 23 despite public fears it could drain medical resources and spread the coronavirus as Japan appears to have contained the fourth wave of infections.

The decision on the domestic spectators — and whether to lift the state of emergency in Tokyo and several other areas — is expected later this month.

The government’s most senior medical adviser, Shigeru Omi, has been voicing his concerns in parliament over the last week, warning that the biggest risk was the increased movement of the public, which has contributed to past rises in infections.

Despite the opposition, the Japanese government and the organisers have dug in their heels, saying the Games would go ahead “barring Armageddon”, as one International Olympic Committee (IOC) member put it.

Yamaguchi, who won a bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Games, has expressed her dismay at such pronouncements, adding she thought the organisers “avoided dialogue” and that the IOC “seems to think that public opinion in Japan is not important.”

During the interview, she also accused Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa of “not sufficiently explaining” to people why they should think the Games are “safe and secure”.

“Even though the infections have eased, they ask people to be careful, to not drink alcohol, to not go out, but they also say: ‘enjoy the Olympics’ — so the citizens are confused by this double standard,” said Yamaguchi.

Japan has recorded more than 760,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 13,800 deaths, while only 12% of its population has received at least one vaccination shot — far behind other major economies.

Yamaguchi added that the appropriate message the organisers should be sending to the public right now was: “we’re not getting carried away”.

“I’m not saying people shouldn’t have fun, but I want them to have this stance: we still haven’t won with corona, we’re still in danger.

“It’s the same as in sports: the most dangerous moment is when you think you’ve won. Typically, that’s when you get beaten up.”

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