Masomah Ali Zada, the first Afghan cyclist participated in the Olympic Games as a member of the International Olympic Committee refugee team, waits behind an Afghan flag. GETTY IMAGES

Afghanistan will send a gender-balanced team of three women and three men to the Paris Olympics in a largely symbolic move, while no Taliban officials will be allowed to attend the Games, the International Olympic Committee said. 

A gender-balanced team of three men and three women will represent Afghanistan in Paris next month in a largely symbolic move for the first Summer Olympics since the Taliban seized power. The women will compete in athletics and cycling, while their male counterparts will compete in athletics, swimming and judo. Their names have not been released.

"We made it clear that we wanted a gender-balanced team. That was the demand and that is what we have achieved. The clear idea is that we want to bring Afghan athletes and a gender-balanced team to Paris because of the demonstration it gives to the world," said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.

The IOC suspended the Afghan NOC in 1999 and the country was excluded from the Sydney 2000 Games. Afghanistan was reinstated after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.The executive director of the Afghan National Olympic Committee (NOC), Dad Mohammad Payenda Akhtari, told AFP that all athletes except the judoka had left Afghanistan.

"Since all women's sports are suspended in Afghanistan, (the athletes) who showed up were not brought in from inside the country," said the executive director, who is based in Kabul. "They are all from abroad, they are coordinated and organised by the IOC," he added, noting that the IOC provides financial support for most of the Afghan athletes.

The Taliban government imposed restrictions on women and girls that have been condemned by the United Nations as "gender apartheid" and has not been recognised by any country since it took power in 2021, complicating Afghanistan's role in international sport.

Afghan athletes will compete under the black, red and green flag and anthem of the former Western-backed republic, which was overthrown by the Taliban in August 2021. The Taliban government is not recognised by any other state and its black and white flag does not appear on Afghan passports or on the uniforms of sports teams competing internationally.

The Taliban, who say they respect women's rights according to their interpretation of Islamic law and local customs, have closed girls' high schools, imposed travel restrictions on women without a male guardian and restricted access to parks and gyms since taking power in August 2021.

The Taliban government says it regularly supports athletes representing Afghanistan in international competitions. Akhtari said the Afghan NOC was coordinating with the Taliban sports authorities. But the IOC said it has only worked with NOC officials, including the president and secretary general, who are in exile.

Adams said no Taliban officials would be accredited to the Games. "There will be no place in Paris for the Afghan authorities, the Taliban," he said. "No representative of the de facto authorities, the Taliban government, will be accredited to the 2024 Olympic Games." The IOC recently said it was in talks with the Afghan NOC and sports authorities "with the aim of reversing the current restrictions on women and young girls' access to sport in Afghanistan".

Afghanistan continues to compete internationally, including on high-profile stages such as the ongoing T20 Cricket World Cup and the Asian Games. The national cricket team flies the flag of the former republic on its uniform, but the cricket board remains based in Kabul.

At last year's Asian Games, male athletes travelled from Afghanistan to compete, as did Afghan women living abroad. While several Afghan athletes, including two skiers, have had Winter Olympic ambitions, Afghan athletes have never competed in a Winter Games.

Afghan Paralympic athletes Hossain Rasouli and Zakia Khudadadi carried the flag of the ousted government at the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games, which opened just over a week after the Taliban seized power, delaying the departure of competitors. The pair arrived in Tokyo for the Games after being evacuated from Taliban-controlled Kabul.

Afghanistan will also have representatives in the Refugee Olympic Team, led by Masomah Ali Zada, who competed in road cycling as part of the Tokyo Games team. The team includes five Afghans, three men and two women, who will compete in road cycling, judo, taekwondo and breakdancing. Athletes on the team must have confirmed refugee status with the United Nations Refugee Agency.