Farzad Mansouri was the flagbearer for Afghanistan at the Tokyo Olympics but weeks later he would have to flee the country in fear of his life after the Taliban re-took control of the country.
The 20-year-old told The Power of Sport that the Taliban's return to power put his taekwondo career on hold, and, given his Tajik ethnicity and his father’s work for the government, he decided to leave the country.
“To be able to go to the Olympics and to be my country’s flagbearer was an incredible feeling. I was representing 30 million people at the Olympic Games," said Mansouri in the latest episode of The Power of Sport.
‘My life was in danger’ – Flagbearer Mansouri details why he had to flee Afghanistan
“After the Olympics we returned to Afghanistan, but the circumstances overtook us - the Taliban took control of the country just two weeks later, and the security situation deteriorated.
“It was dangerous for my family because we were well known people in Afghanistan. My life was in danger and where we lived, a few people were killed. It was decided that we had to flee the country.”
He spent eight months in a refugee camp in the United Arab Emirates, before moving to Manchester, where he has resumed his taekwondo training.
“We went to Abu Dhabi and whilst there I was invited by a few countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Azerbaijan and the United Kingdom to come and train with them," he said. "I accepted the UK’s invitation as I knew the British team was one of the best in the world.”
Some of Mansouri's family are in Abu Dhabi while others remain in Afghanistan, and worries persist over their safety.
“I am worried about my family, some of my brothers and sisters are still in Afghanistan and all the rest are in Abu Dhabi. It is just me and one of my brothers here in the UK," he added.
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The 20-year-old adds that - despite the upheaval of the last few months - taekwondo has offered some respite and he maintains hopes of competing at world and Olympic level again.
“I think about it when I eat, when I sleep, when I rest and even when I talk to my family," he added. "When I am practising it helps me forget about all of my problems, it makes me very happy.
“The training facilities here are better than in my own country, they allow you to focus on different aspects of training, there isn’t a facility comparable to this in Afghanistan. My goal is to win medals at both the World Championships and the Olympics."
Mansouri also has plans beyond his taekwondo career and wants to pass on his wisdom to the next generation once he retires.
"I want to have a good, calm life with my family. Once I retire from competing, I want to become a coach and train the next generation. I want to have a normal life without all this drama where we can all live in the same place altogether.”
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