Largest refugee team to compete at Paris Paralympics

PARIS — The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on Tuesday unveiled a nine-member refugee team for the upcoming Games in Paris.

The team is made up of eight competitors and one guide runner. They will take part in taekwondo, athletics, triathlon, power lifting, table tennis and wheelchair fencing.

“The world has more than 120 million forcibly displaced people worldwide,” said Andrew Parsons, the IPC president.

“Many live in dire conditions. These athletes have persevered and shown incredible determination to get to Paris 2024 and give every refugee around the world hope.”

Ibrahim Al Hussein will be competing in a third Paralympics for the refugee team but is switching from swimming to triathlon, even though he faced the challenge of putting together “all the necessary equipment to compete in triathlon which can be expensive.”

Al Hussein arrived in Greece from Syria 10 years ago.

“Sport has helped me integrate into society,” he said.

Zakia Khudadadi, who represented Afghanistan at the COVID-delayed Tokyo Games in 2021 shortly after being evacuated from the country following the Taliban takeover, and Hadi Hassanzada will compete in parataekwondo.

Hassanzada was born in Afghanistan and grew up in Iran.

“Then I returned to Afghanistan thinking that the country had become peaceful. I was wrong.”

He fled.

“Living in the forests of Turkey with my friends in the cold of winter, there were times when I was close to death,” he said in interview with the IPC.

His journey to the Paralympics showed “refugees can succeed despite all the problems they face,” he said.

Guillaume Junior Atangana sprinted for Cameroon in Tokyo before leaving for Britain. He said his training for the 100m and 400m T11 events in Paris was hampered when his guide, and fellow refugee, Donard Ndim Nyamjua was injured.

“Many people wanted to be on the team. So, I have had to pull out all the stops to be the best,” Atanganga said.

Shot putter Salman Abbariki will compete in track and field at a second Paralympics.

Once Hadi Darvish, a refugee from Iran, found a gym that would take an athlete in a wheelchair and without a bank account, he thrived in power lifting, winning a German title in 2022 in a championship for able-bodied athletes. 

The team is completed by Sayed Amir Hossein Pour, who won Asian junior table tennis titles representing Iran, and wheelchair fencer Amelio Castro Grueso.

“No matter how difficult their circumstances, these athletes have found a way to compete at the very highest level of Paralympic sport,” said the team’s chef de mission Nyasha Mharakurwa, who represented Zimbabwe in wheelchair tennis at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

“They are not just representing the forcibly displaced people worldwide but the world’s 1.2 billion persons with disabilities.”

The Opening Ceremony for the Paralympics will be held on Aug. 28 along the Champs-Elysees and in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

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