Kimia Alizadeh, the only female athlete to have won an Olympic medal, has been granted asylum in Germany. The German Taekwondo Federation described the move as a "great victory" for German Taekwondo and the sporting community in general.
On August 21, 2016, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posted a photograph of Kimia Alizadeh on Twitter in both English and Persian, along with ample praise for her. However, his admiration was not a response to her athletic achievements, but instead for the way she wore her hijab, of which he apparently approved. "I sincerely thank all the female athletes present on the international stage who wear hijab,” he wrote.
It would have been difficult for him to imagine that in such a short period of time, the same woman would join the ranks of people expressing disgust with Iran’s law making it mandatory for women to wear compulsory hijab while playing and competing in sports.
Alizadeh responded to Khamenei’s thanks on Instagram, where she greeted the people of Iran, apologized to them and then said goodbye.
"I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran who authorities have played with as they wished for years. They took me wherever they wanted. I wore everything they said. I repeated every sentence they ordered. They detained me whenever they saw fit. They attributed my medals to the obligatory hijab and attributed them to their own management. I was not important to them. None of us are important to them; we are tools. These medals are important for them to exploit us for politics at any price they set. But at the same time, they say, in an act of humiliation: the virtue of a woman is that she does not stretch her legs.”
As an example of this, someone went on to the Supreme Leader's website after Kimia Alizadeh won the Taekwondo bronze medal at Rio de Janeiro to report that, in the Leader’s message of praise, he did did not even mention Kimia Alizadeh by name. He wanted to highlight that she had worn a hijab, and that was all.
Six days after Alizadeh's Instagram post, the German Taekwondo Federation officially announced the Iranian female Taekwondo genius was seeking asylum in Germany. “The most important thing for me is to have a comfortable life. Apart from winning an Olympic medal and a world championship, and the successes and goals that I have in mind, I look for a peaceful life."
Together with her husband, Hamed Madanchi, a former Iranian national volleyball team member, Alizadeh spoke to reporters about why she had taken refuge in Germany.
"We have always hosted athletes over the past decades," said the president of the German Taekwondo Federation when asked by a Reuters reporter why she had chosen this country for asylum. "In football, too, many of our players are immigrants."
Kimia Alizadeh won a bronze medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics when she was just 18 years old. But after the Rio Olympics, she suffered an injury and, after medical assessment, it emerged that she was suffering from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its nerves. Symptoms include muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, and even paralysis.
After this news surfaced, the Iranian Taekwondo Federation stated that it would be unlikely that Kimia Alizadeh would be able to take part in championship games due to her condition, and that her future in the sport was at serious risk. However, she did return, and continued to compete as part of in the Iranian national Taekwondo team.
Her recovery was widely welcomed: photographs showed that she was busy training in preparation. Despite her incredible return to health and fitness, the Iranian federation continued to regard her with skepticism.
Iran’s Losses — Other Countries’ Gains
On October 31, 2020, the British government agreed to grant asylum to Shohreh Bayat, an Iranian female referee and chess player. Since then, Bayat has been refereeing and competing for the United Kingdom.
According to Die Nachrichten news agency., Kimia Alizadeh will participate in the German Olympic Sports Federation using her refugee status. The Taekwondo Federation is taking steps to register Kimia Alizadeh as an athlete in the competition as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team.
"We are pleased to announce that the 22-year-old athlete will now have a new chance to qualify for the European Championships in May in Sofia," the German Taekwondo Federation told the agency.
Earlier, the German Sailing Federation had registered Saeed Fazlouli, a former Iranian national sailing team member who had taken refuge in Germany, as part of the refugee team.
According to the committee's decision, currently 50 athletes are confirmed to compete in the Olympics as members of the refugee team. The following Iranians are confirmed to take part: Taekwondo fighter Ali Noghandoust, who is seeking asylum in Croatia; Amir Mohammad Hosseini, a Taekwondo fighter with refugee status in Germany; Dina Poriones Langroudi, Taekwondo fighter and refugee in the Netherlands, Ehsan Naghibzadeh, Iranian Taekwondo fighter and refugee in Switzerland, and Kasra Mehdipournejad, Taekwondo fighter, also with refugee status in Germany.
If Kimia Alizadeh also joins the team, its chances of winning a medal will certainly increase.
Kimia Alizadeh left Iran with more than 10 Asian and world medals, a hero of Iranian sports. In recent months, she has kept her head down, kept away from politics and been training and working hard in silence.