Iran’s Only Female Olympic Medalist Defects

Taekwondo athlete Kimia Alizadeh posted a letter on Instagram as Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency said she had fled to the Netherlands. She is the first and only Iranian woman to win a medal at the Summer Olympics.

Alizadeh said she defected from the Islamic Republic as “one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran.” She criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf and accused officials in Iran of sexism and mistreatment.

“Whatever they said, I wore,” Alizadeh wrote. “Every sentence they ordered, I repeated.”

Abdolkarim Hosseinzadeh, a member of Iran’s parliament, accused “incompetent officials” of allowing Iran’s “human capital to flee.”

The 21-year-old Alizadeh won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She is expected to try to compete under another nation’s flag at the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.

In the months prior to Alizadeh’s defection a number top Iranian sports figures had decided to stop representing — or to physically leave — Iran.

In September 2019, Saeid Mollaei, who practices judo and was world champion, left Iran for Germany after Iranian officials allegedly pressured him to throw a match to avoid competing against Israelis. Alireza Firouzja, who was Iran’s top-rated chess champion, decided to stop playing for Iran in December 2019 because of Iran’s informal ban on competing against Israeli players. Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, left Iran for Australia in 2019.

Alizadeh stands at 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in) and competes at 57 kg (137 lb). In 2018, she married volleyball player Hamed Madanchi.