Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said on Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.
Kimia Alizadeh announced in an Instagram post earlier this month she had left Iran, accusing officials of sexism and criticising the mandatory headscarf.
Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany to meet with taekwondo officials who she hopes will support her in gaining the German nationality.
She took the bronze medal in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio di Janeiro, making her the first Iranian woman to take home a medal from the world’s most prominent athletics showcase.
Despite defecting from her homeland, Alizadeh still hopes to compete in this year’s Olympics in Tokyo.
“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 on Friday.
The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.
However, getting to the Olympics this year would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether Alizadeh tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.
“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” she said.
“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.”
In recent months and years, several Iranian athletes have opted to leave their country, citing government pressure.
For her part, Alizadeh said earlier this month her athletic success had been “exploited” by Tehran, accusing the Iranian regime of “corruption and lies”.
“I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran who they have been playing with for years,” she said in an Instagram post. “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.”
Others, such as Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei, have fled Iran citing pressure to boycott competing with Israeli athletes.