The Slatest

The Only Woman to Win an Olympic Medal for Iran Has Defected

Iran's Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin poses with her bronze medal on the podium after the womens taekwondo event in the -57kg category as part of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, on August 18, 2016, at the Carioca Arena 3, in Rio de Janeiro.
Iran’s Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin poses with her bronze medal on the podium after the womens taekwondo event in the -57kg category as part of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, on August 18, 2016, at the Carioca Arena 3, in Rio de Janeiro.
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/Getty Images

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said she had left the country permanently, announcing her defenction in a long, emotional post on Instagram that explained the difficult decision to abandon her homeland. Kimia Alizadeh, who won a bronze medal in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, said she had grown tired of being used for propaganda by authorities even though she was “one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran.”

“Let me start with a greeting, a farewell or condolences,” the 21-year-old began her Instagram post. Alizadeh went on to write that she no longer wanted to “be part of hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery.” The athlete popularly known as “The Tsunami” said authorities constantly took credit for her achievements while also humiliating her. She specifically recalled one time when an official said that “It is not virtuous for a woman to stretch her legs!”

Alizadeh criticized the mandatory wearing of the hijab headscarf and described constant mistreatment by authorities. “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,” she wrote. “I wasn’t important to them. None of us mattered to them, we were tools.” Alizadeh’s Instagram post suggested she had gone to Europe and the semiofficial Iranian news agency ISNA said she had fled to the Netherlands.

The defection comes at a time of high tensions between the United States and Iran and Morgan Ortagus, a spokeswoman for the State Department, praised Alizadeh, saying she had “rejected the regime’s oppression of women.” Iran “will continue to lose more strong women unless it learns to empower and support them,” she added.

Alizadeh is the latest in a string of athletes to have defected from Iran recently. In September, Saeid Mollaei, an Iranian judoka, left the country for Germany after he said Iranian officials had ordered him to pull out of fights to avoid facing an Israeli. Pourya Jalalipour, an Iranian para-archer who qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, sought asylum in the Netherlands in July. Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left for Australia last year.