Iran’s lone female Olympic medalist reportedly defects

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said she defected from the Islamic Republic in a blistering online letter that describes herself as “one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran.”

Taekwondo athlete and Rio bronze medalist Kimia Alizadeh posted the letter on Instagram after Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency said she had fled to the Netherlands. She criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf and accused officials in Iran of sexism and mistreatment.

“Whatever they said, I wore,” Alizadeh wrote in the letter posted Saturday. “Every sentence they ordered, I repeated.”

She described the decision to leave Iran as difficult, but necessary.

There was no immediate reaction from Iranian authorities. ISNA said Alizadeh had been reported injured and unable to compete. Their report suggested Alizadeh may try to compete under another nation’s flag at the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.

World Taekwondo said Friday it had not received communication from Alizadeh regarding a possible country switch.

In Rio, Alizadeh became the first Iranian woman to earn an Olympic medal. Iran’s men have won 68 medals.

“I am so happy for Iranian girls because it is the first medal, and I hope at the next Olympics we will get a gold,” she said then, according to Reuters.

Alizadeh also earned world championships medals in 2015 (bronze) and 2017 (silver), plus a 2014 Youth Olympic title.

Her defection comes amid unprecedentedly high tensions between Iran and the United States.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, Saeed Mollaei, an Iranian judoka, left the country for Germany. He said Iranian officials had forced him to not compete with Israeli judoka.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

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