Being a female athlete is quite the unbearable task in Iran as the country's only woman to ever bring home an Olympic medal revealed this weekend.
In a post she shared with her 410K followers on Instagram, Kimia Alizadeh, a young woman who claimed a bronze honor in the 57kg category of Taekwondo at the 2016 Rio Olympics, announced she had defected.
The 20-year-old disclosed she has permanently left her country, citing the oppression Iranian women are forced to face. Several news outlets reported that Alizadeh has fled to the Netherlands, however, her exact whereabouts have not yet been confirmed.
Reports of her exit first surfaced on Thursday but weren't confirmed until she posted a lengthy statement via social media on Saturday. Before her defection was confirmed, the head of Iran's Taekwondo Federation, Seyed Mohammad Pouladgar, claimed Alizadeh "had assured both her father and her coach that she was traveling as part of her vacation."
He said her trip was paid for by the Iranian government and dismissed reports of her defection, saying they were "politically motivated rumors amplified by the foreign media."
Though she didn't specify the country she had traveled to, the young athlete left no room for doubt over the fact that she had made the decision to leave her country for good.
"Let me start with a greeting, a farewell or condolences. I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran who they have been playing with for years," Alizadeh opened her post, according to CNN.
The top Iranian sportswoman said she no longer wanted to be complicit with the Iranian regime's "corruption and lies," accusing its officials of celebrating her success in public while secretly criticizing the sport she chose to play by saying things like, "The virtue of a woman is not to stretch her legs!"
The athlete slammed her country's regime, explaining how she felt exploited by authorities who took credit for her success.
"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. I wasn't important to them. None of us mattered to them, we were tools," she added.
Alizadeh quashed rumors she was invited to Europe
In her Instagram post, the sportswoman made sure to refute rumors claiming she was invited to leave her country to go live in Europe. Alizadeh said the decision to leave her country was more difficult than winning Olympic medals, explaining that she wished for nothing other than to continue playing her sport, be safe, and live a healthy, happy life.
Her defection caused a stir in Iran, which has been shaken by angry anti-government protests that grew after the country mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian Airline passenger jet last week. The missile fired at the plane brought it down, killing all 176 people on board.
The New York Times reported on her appearance along with her husband, Hamed Madanchi, at a memorial service in the Netherlands for the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash.
Sportswomen have it tough in Iran
Even though Iranian women outnumber men at universities and have made strides in culture and arts, they continue to struggle when it comes to winning their right to practice various kinds of sports in the country. This is mostly due to extremely strict clothing rules and negative views that many conservative religious authorities have when it comes to females practicing professional sports or even being spectators at competitions.
The latter, specifically, led to the suicide of Iran's "Blue Girl," a football fan who was not allowed to attend games in her own country. Iran is known for placing very strict rules on Iranian women who defy all obstacles to actually make it to official sports competitions. The country has long-barred women from attending football matches and arrests those caught taking part in sports including Zumba.
In 2017, an18-year-old Iranian chess grandmaster, Dorsa Derakhshani, was barred from competing as part of Iran's national chess team for not wearing a hijab.
That same year, around 156 women who were registered to run in the country's first international marathon were shocked to learn that an Iranian government order required them to run apart from men and off the streets in a nearby stadium. They were also only allowed to participate in the 10K race (the marathon included 10K, 21K, and 42K runs).