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Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

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

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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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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Judo world champion granted Mongolian citizenship after fleeing Iran

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A judo world champion from Iran who went into hiding after disobeying orders to withdraw from August’s world championships to avoid a potential Israeli opponent has been granted Mongolian citizenship, according to the International Judo Federation.

Saeid Mollaei, a 2018 World champion, can compete in Olympic qualifying events under his new flag.

Mollaei walked off the Iranian team in August, saying he had been ordered by the government to lose matches and withdraw from competitions so as not to face Israelis. He competed anyway but lost one round before a potential final with an Israeli, then fled to Germany.

“I want to compete wherever I can,” Mollaei said in a statement from the IJF in September. “I live in a country whose law does not permit me to. We have no choice, all athletes must comply with it. All I did today was for my life, for a new life.

“I need help. Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid.”

In October, Iran was banned indefinitely from international judo competitions for refusing to let its athletes fight Israeli opponents.

Mollaei remained eligible to compete as part of a refugee team before the switch to Mongolia.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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