Two Iranian athletes will face off in the taekwondo opening rounds at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics: Nahid Kiani from Iran’s national team, and Kimia Alizadeh from the independent Olympic Refugee Team.
Iran’s mainstream media has fixated on the competition – calling it “unexpected” and “attractive,” but also “sensitive” – but Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, censored Alizadeh’s name out of its headline.
Who are the Iranian-born Olympic Taekwondo Practitioners?
Nahid Kiani, 23 years old and born in Isfahan, was the last child in a family of eight. None of her four brothers and one sister are athletes. Kiani started taekwondo at the age of eight, to occupy free time; and unlike other athletes, who sample various sports in their younger years, she remained committed to the martial art. Kiani has previously said that her mother had intended to enrol her in a karate class and chose taekwondo by mistake.
Kimia Alizadeh, also 23 years old, has a considerably superior record as a martial arts athlete. During Alizadeh’s previous years in Iran’s national team, during which time she became Iran’s only woman to win an Olympic medal, before she left the country, she won a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships, gold at the World Junior Championships, bronze at the Asian Championships, gold at the Islamic Solidarity Games, bronze at the Asian Games and silver at the Asian Championships.
She ranks among the top athletes in the World Taekwondo Federation and has also won three gold medals, at the World Grand Prix, the Youth Olympics and the World Junior Championships, one silver and one bronze at the World Championships and the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Her latest achievement was to secure her place at the Tokyo Olympics at the qualifiers in Jordan – where she won gold.
Why are Nahid Kiani and Kimia Alizadeh Facing Each Other?
Kiani and Alizadeh have been paired up for the first round of the Olympics precisely because of their divergent rankings: Kiani is ranked at the bottom and the rules state that she must face one of the top-ranked athletes at the competition.
For her part, Alizadeh left Iran in 2019, seeking asylum in Germany with her husband, Hamed Madanchi, a former member of Iran’s national volleyball team. On February 10, 2021, the German government accepted Kimia Alizadeh's asylum application. But to compete under the German flag she would also need to be a German citizen. Therefore, she will compete in Tokyo as part of the Olympic Refugee Team.
Alizadeh is not the only Iranian taekwondo athlete competing as part of the Refugee Team. Dina Pouryounes, another Iranian taekwondo fighter who sought asylum in the Netherlands, will also take part in the contest.
Nor is Alizadeh’s confrontation with Nahid Kiani the first such Iranian-on-Iranian fight. Milad Beigi, an Iranian on Azerbaijan’s team, faced Iran’s Mehdi Khodabakhshi in the 206 Olympic taekwondo contests. Beigi won 17-5 and eliminated Khodabakhshi, dashing one of Iran’s best hopes of winning a medal at that Olympics.