Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said on 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,” Ms 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.
Ms 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, Ms 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 criticised wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.
The athlete hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. But 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.
Ms Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken in favour of Ms 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.
Ms 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.”