Qatar is assisting the athletes with their visa and travel documents.
Three Afghan athletes will compete in the World Table Tennis [WTT] Star Contender and the Asian Table Tennis Championships in Qatar at the end of September.
According to the International Table Tennis Foundation [ITTF], athletes Mustafa Bakhtiyari and Mohammad Hosseini will be participating in the Men’s Singles and Doubles Qualifying rounds while Behrooz Daneshmand will feature in the Men’s Singles Qualifying round.
“I know the chaos and turmoil in Afghanistan have broken hearts and hopes. But nothing can break the soul of an Afghan. Our government may have collapsed but our people are still standing and will keep standing tall. We’ll fight in every sphere of life for their bright future,” said President of the Afghanistan Table Tennis Federation [ATTF] Heleena Kakar.
The move came after Qatar’s Table Tennis Association [QTTA] awarded the athletes wildcard spots to allow them to participate in the championships in Doha. The Afghan champions were initially set to participate in the Asian Championships, also set to take place in Qatar at the Lusail Sports Arena.
“We are delighted to award them wildcards where they now have the opportunity to compete against some of the best table tennis players in the world. We are also assisting them with their visa and travel documents so that they will be ready to join us in Qatar as we get ready to showcase table tennis to the world again,” said Khalil Al-Mohannadi, President of the QTTA and ITTF’s Deputy President.
“In times like this, we want to provide an opportunity for our Afghan table tennis athletes to compete and continue their professional table tennis journey,” he added.
The WTT Star Contender will take place from 20-25 September and the Asian Table Tennis Championships will commence the following week on 28 September until 5 October.
The ITTF’s statement said the gesture also comes as part of its “Solidarity through Table Tennis” initiative, which aims to ensure equal participation and preparation of athletes.
In light of the latest events in Afghanistan, the federation stressed the importance of allowing the Afghan national team to participate at international events in a smooth manner.
“One of the most remarkable things that sport can do is to bring people together. And the ITTF vision, ‘Table Tennis. For all. For Life’, is truly reflected by the us being inclusive and our joint efforts to bring them to Doha,” said Steve Dainton, ITTF Group CEO.
Commenting on the latest news, Leandro Olvech, ITTF Foundation Director said the federation is “pleased to promote solidarity through table tennis” and to use sports “as a tool to develop diplomatic and friendly relations among humankind”.
“Long live United and independent Afghanistan. We fail but we never lose, we fall but we never leave trying to stand,” said Kakar.
Women’s football team
Meanwhile, the Afghan women’s football team and their families arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday after fleeing their country weeks after the Taliban captured control of the country.
Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the players entered the country through the northwestern Torkham border crossing while carrying valid travel documents.
While the Taliban has yet to comment on the matter, the Associated Press [AP] reported that an official, who was not authorised to comment prior to official announcements, said the government’s interpretation of Islam is not compatible with the participation of women in any sports.
While it remains unclear whether the women’s football team would remain in Pakistan or not, Al Jazeera said they would be expected to travel to Qatar, a key player in the mass evacuation mission.
However, there is still no confirmation from Qatari authorities over their travel to Qatar.
So far, Qatar has evacuated more than 50,000 Afghans and foreigners from the country following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on 15 August, some of which citing fear over the militants’ strict rule that is based on their interpretation of Islam.
Women and girls have voiced particular concern over their safety. During the Taliban’s previous rule in the 90s, women were not allowed to go out without a male guardian and were prohibited from accessing education and employment.
Since capturing control last month, the Taliban has made statements to quell such concerns, vowing to allow women access to university on the condition that they wear the hijab while segregating them from their male counterparts.