Iran’s only female Olympics medalist claims to have defected

Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin of the Islamic Republic of Iran celebrates after defeating Nikita Glasnovic of Sweden during the Women's -57kg Bronze Medal Taekwondo contest at the Carioca Arena at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games on August 18, 2016. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Iranian taekwondo Olympic medallist Kimia Alizadeh has said she’s permanently left her home country to live in Europe.

CNN reported that 21-year-old Alizadeh posted the news on Instagram, blaming the Iranian government’s exploitation of her and other athletes and women: “I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran who they have been playing with for years.”

She added: “They took me wherever they wanted. I wore whatever they said. Every sentence they ordered me to say, I repeated. Whenever they saw fit, they exploited me…I wasn’t important to them. None of us mattered to them, we were tools.”

Alizadeh became the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal when she won a bronze at Rio 2016.

It isn’t known precisely where Alizadeh is. Last Friday, the head of Iran’s taekwondo federation, Seyed Mohammad Pouladgar, said the athlete had told her father and coach that she was on a holiday paid for by the Iranian government and dismissed reports of the ‘defection’. But Alizadeh confirmed the rumours on Saturday. She said she hadn’t been invited to go to Europe, and said: “My troubled spirit does not fit with your dirty economic ties and tight political lobbies. I wish for nothing else than for Taekwondo, safety and for a happy and healthy life”.

Alizadeh’s move comes amid political turmoil in Iran following the assassination by the US of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, and the downing of a Ukrainian passenger airplane as Iran struck back at nearby American military bases.

Alizadeh said that, despite her move out of the country, “I remain a daughter of Iran wherever I am.”