January 24, 2020 / 5:58 PM / a month ago

Runaway Iranian athlete wants to compete for Germany in Tokyo

LUENEN, Germany, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Iran's only female Olympic medallist, Kimia Alizadeh, wants to compete for Germany as soon as the next Games in Tokyo, but regardless of whether she achieves that ambition, she never expects to return to her home country.

Alizadeh, who won taekwondo bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, announced earlier this month that she had defected to Europe because she felt she had been used as a propaganda tool by Iran.

"The Olympics is a great challenge for every athlete," the 21-year-old told reporters in Luenen, northwest Germany, speaking through a translator.

"But it is still not clear at all whether I'll be able to start in this one (Tokyo Olympics this summer). If it isn't possible, then I'll start in 2024."

Alizadeh is one of several prominent Iranians to clash with the authorities in recent months.

Iranian chess referee Shohreh Bayat, who was accused of violating her country's Islamic dress code while adjudicating a women's tournament, said this month she did not want to return home from Russia out of fear for her safety.

In December, Iran's top-rated chess champion decided not to play for his country in an apparent reaction to Tehran's informal ban on competing against Israeli players.

Musa Cicek, vice president of the German Taekwondo Union, said there was no guarantee that Alizadeh would be selected to represent Germany in Tokyo even if the paperwork could be sorted out in time.

"If there is a naturalization within the next 14 days, then it would be an option," he said. "But we also have other athletes who have been battling to go to the Olympics for the last four years, and there won't be a free ticket."

Asked if she could ever imagine returning to Iran, Alizadeh replied: "No." (Writing by Mike Collett-White Editing by Frances Kerry)

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