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Iran’s sole female Olympic medalist has defected from her country and reportedly fled to the Netherlands, according to a post on her Instagram account Saturday.
Taekwondo athlete Kimia Alizadeh stated that her decision was difficult but something she had to do, according to the AP.
Alizadeh also said Iranian officials forced her to wear the hijab headscarf and accused them of sexism and mistreatment.
I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran who have been playing with me for years. They took me wherever they wanted. Whatever they said I wore. Every sentence they ordered I repeated. Whenever they saw fit, they exploited me. They put my medals on the obligatory veil and attributed it to their management and tact.
I wasn’t important to them. None of us mattered to them, we were tools. The virtue of a woman is not to stretch her legs!
My troubled spirit does not fit into your dirty economic channels and tight political lobbies. I have no other wish except for Taekwondo, security and a happy and healthy life.
She concluded by stating that she would “remain a daughter of Iran wherever I am.”
Initially, news outlets reported that Alizadeh was missing, which caused Iranian politician Abdolkarim Hosseinzadeh to blame “incompetent officials” for allowing the Islamic Republic’s “human capital to flee,” according to the BBC.
In a statement, U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus praised Alizadeh’s decision and said it showed 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,” Ortagus commented.
In recent years, several Iranian athletes also left the country because they felt pressured by the government, according to the AP.
“In September, Saeed Mollaei, an Iranian judoka, left the country for Germany. He said Iranian officials had forced him to not compete with Israeli judoka,” the report said.
Alizadeh won a bronze medal during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and is reportedly training to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics scheduled to take place in Tokyo, Japan.
However, she will not do so under the Iranian flag.
Her defection came just one day after the Iranian government admitted responsibility for shooting down Ukrainian International Flight PS752, killing all 176 people on board, including a large contingency of Iranians and Canadians.