Last week, an increasing number of reports suggested Iran could have lost one of their most prized athletes: Kimia Alizadeh. Now Alizadeh has come out and confirmed that she is defecting.
Alizadeh made history at the Rio Olympics in 2016 winning a bronze medal in taekwondo. She is the Islamic republic's only female athlete to have won a medal.
She took to Instagram to confirm that she is leaving Iran because of "hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery".
"I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran whom they've been playing for years," Alizadeh wrote. I wore whatever they told me and repeated whatever they ordered. Every sentence they ordered I repeated. None of us matter for them, we are just tools."
The semi-official Isna news agency first published the rumours, reporting that the coach of the women's national team said she is suffering from an injury and that she did not attend the Olympic trials for Tokyo 2020.
They reported that she had been training in the Netherlands and that a low-quality picture circulating online was thought to show Alizadeh, not wearing a headscarf and mixing with a group of young men and women.
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This contrasts to the headscarf Alizadeh wore at the Rio Olympics, in keeping with Iran's Muslim customs.
According to the Straits Times, on Twitter, after the image and news surfaced the hashtag #Kimia-Alizadeh was one of the most-shared in Farsi. According to the paper, Abdolkarim Hosseinzadeh, an Iranian MP, also spoke out on Alizadeh's potential move, reportedly questioning why Iranian officials allowed Iran's "human capital to flee".
Alizadeh's move echos the story of Alireza Firouzja, an Iranian chess star who became a grandmaster at 14 then later moved to France.
Alizadeh could compete under a different flag at Tokyo 2020 if she wishes, due to an Olympic Charter bylaw stating that athletes with dual citizenship can choose which country to represent and that anyone who has gained new citizenship or wants to change Olympic affiliation can do so if three years have passed since they last represented the previous country at the Olympics.News Now - Sport News