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'Protest Migration' Of Athletes Serious Challenge, Iran Olympic Chairman Says

Iranian chess grandmaster Mitra Hejazipour who has defied the compulsory Islamic dress code says will not go back to Iran. January 28, 2020

The Chairman of Iran's Olympic Committee says "protest migration" of Iranian athletes and elite is "extremely worrying" and a "serious challenge to the country at present and in the future".

In a note published on the website of Iran's National Olympic Committee on February 2, Reza Salehi-Amiri said emigration is a "social thermometer" and reveals the inadequacies and constraints of the country and society emigrants leave behind.

Salehi-Amiri dubbed the emigration of Iranian athletes, experts, and elite "escape in protest" and said while emigration is not necessarily an undesirable phenomenon, "escaping in protest" is and can have many negative psychological, political and social consequences for Iran and damage its reputation.

The National Olympics Committee has formed a group and organized a seminar to investigate the dimensions of the problem and offer "a realistic analysis", Amiri-Salehi said.

Since September 2019 several prominent athletes, including Iran's only female Olympic gold medalist Kimia Alizadeh, chess grandmaster Alireza Firouzja and judo champion and gold medalist Saeid Mollaei as well as several female athletes who have defied compulsory hijab have sought asylum abroad.

Several other athletes now refuse to play under the Iranian flag and some including the son of Iran's former Taekwondo boss have joined the national teams of other countries.

Iran's Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Masoud Soltanifar, however, on Monday attributed the exodus of Iranian athletes to their "personal problems including issues with the heads of their respective federations, coaches or other personal things" and said it should not be seen as a "political or social crisis".