Australia relocates more Afghan athletes fleeing Taliban rule

FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Women's 100m - Preliminary Round - OLS - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - July 30, 2021. Kimia Yousofi of Afghanistan reacts after the race REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia has relocated Afghanistan's Olympic flag-bearer Kimia Yousofi and other athletes and their family members fleeing Taliban rule, officials said on Wednesday.

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) said five Afghan families with "ties to the Olympic movement" had arrived in Australia in recent months following a 12-month project to bring them to safety.

They included dual Olympian and track sprinter Yousofi, who carried Afghanistan's flag at last year's Tokyo Olympics and taekwondo Asian Games medallist Ahmad Abasy, the AOC said.

In all, 31 family members had arrived in Australia - the first in early June and the most recent last week.

"For the families involved, the stress and uncertainty over this time has been enormous," AOC Chief Executive Matt Carroll said in a statement.

"Many have spent time in locations outside Afghanistan and it's wonderful to now have them on Australian soil. All arrived happy, if exhausted."

The AOC liaised with the Australian government to secure visas and flights for the Afghan arrivals while the International Olympic Committee provided financial support during their time in interim locations.

Yousofi thanked the Australian government and the AOC, and said she hoped to compete at next year's Olympics in Paris.

"It's been a journey for me but I am very happy to be here," she said. I am essentially starting a new life here," she added in a statement.

Australia evacuated more than 70 Afghan athletes, family members and officials a year ago as the Taliban swept to power.

Girls and women's sport has since been crushed by the Taliban government's hardline policies.

Men have continued to play sport at community and elite level in the country but women are effectively confined to their homes by a mixture of regulation and intimidation.

Abasy said in the statement that sport was the "natural right" of every human being.

"Unfortunately, now in Afghanistan, sports have a gender perspective and girls are denied the right to sports," he added.

"This is a great loss for the sport of Afghanistan and the world."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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