Iranian Teenage Weightlifter Yekta Jamali Disappears in Greece

By Kayhan Life Staff

Iranian weightlifter Yekta Jamali, winner of the silver medal in the 81-kilogram division at the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Junior World Championships in Crete, Greece, has not returned to the team’s training camp. She went missing on May 11, a day before the team was to return home, Iranian media reported.

Ms. Jamali’s teammates returned to Iran without her on May 12.

While her whereabouts remain unknown, some people have speculated that Ms. Jamali has gone into hiding.

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Ali Moradi, the head of Iran’s national weightlifting federation (IRIWF), has reportedly remained in Greece, hoping to find Jamali.

Ms. Jamali, who is 17, won her silver medal by lifting 90-kilogram in the snatch and 115-kilogram in clean and jerk for a total lift of 205 kilograms.

Jamali, a native of Isfahan, the capital of the central province of Isfahan, previously won a bronze medal at the 2021 Junior World Championships in the 87-kilogram weight division. Her medal was Iran’s first-ever in the sport.

“I do not know what happened,” Zahra Pour-Ebrahimi, deputy head of IRIWF, told reporters. “We are in contact with the family of this young girl. We are trying to return her to Iran.”

In recent years, several Iranian athletes in various disciplines, including fencing, football, volleyball, karate, chess, judo, and taekwondo, have sought asylum in Europe, the U.S. and other countries. Many compete under the flag of their adopted countries.

Some 59 Iranians in 13 sporting fields have defected to 21 countries in the past six years. They include several international referees and coaches, including Nadereh Aghaei, the former head coach of the Iranian women’s national karate team, and Sara Khosravi, the former head coach of the Iranian women’s national gymnastics team.

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During the Soviet era, many Russian athletes and their counterparts from the Eastern Bloc sought asylum in the West when their teams competed in international competitions.

Nowadays, members of the Iranian national sports teams competing abroad must put up collateral — in most cases in the form of a cashier check for a hefty amount —which the Islamic Republic cashes if they do not return to Iran.

Shaghayegh Bapiri, a member of the Iranian women’s handball team, defected to Spain on Dec. 15, 2021, after the team’s last game against the notional Angolan team at the 25th International Handball Federation Women’s World Championship in Valencia.

“None of the players would have returned to Iran if each had not written a check for $37,000 [in collateral],” Ms. Bapiri said in an interview with the Voice of America (VoA).

Saman Bolaghi, a member of the Iranian national wheelchair basketball team, remained in Germany after the World Cup.

In 1996, Sadaf Khadem and Mobin Kahrazeh, two Iranian boxers, defected to France and Austria.

Iranian Kickboxer Omid Ahmadi-Safa, who had reached the finals in the kickboxing tournament in Italy, left the training camp abruptly and sought asylum in Germany.

Kimia Alizadeh, who won the bronze medal in taekwondo 57-kilogram weight class at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, made headlines when she fled to Germany in 2020.

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In the same year, Shohreh Bayat, an Iranian referee at the Women’s World Chess Championship in Shanghai, China, said she feared returning to Iran after her photographs without a headscarf were circulated on social media.

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Other Iranian athletes who have sought asylum in the West include Navis Zanganeh, a member of Iran’s under 23 national wrestling team, who emigrated to Canada in January 2020. Mr. Zanganeh was a Bronze-medalist in the 74-kilogram weight class in the 2018 World U23 Wrestling Championship in Bucharest, Romania.

Another female Iranian Taekwondo champion, Parisa Farshidi, the runner-up in the Asian Games, applied for asylum in Germany in February 2020.

Also, Iranian Para Archery Champion Pouria Jalalipour sought asylum in the Netherlands in 2019.

In the same year, Alireza Firouzja, the first-ever Iranian-born male chess player to rank second in the World Rapid Chess Championship, said he would play under the French flag in all future tournaments.

Firouzja announced his decision shortly after Iran withdrew its players from the 2019 World Rapid and Blitz Championships to prevent them from playing against Israeli opponents.

Iranian Chess Prodigy Alireza Firouzja to Play Under French Flag From Now On

During the second day of the Paris Grand Slam 2019, Saeed Mollaei, an Iranian judoka in the Men’s 81-kilogram division, deliberately threw a match against Kazakhstan’s Ruslan Mussayev to avoid facing his Israeli opponent Sagi Muki in the next round. Mr. Mollaei was subsequently banned indefinitely from future competition.

Footage of the match showed Mollaei in tears as he left the mat after losing to Mr. Mussayev, who was ranked 209th in the world. Mollaei was later granted Mongolian citizenship and competed under that country’s flag in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Raheleh Asemani, an Iranian-born woman taekwondo athlete, also competed under the Belgian flag in the 2016 Rio Games.

Three Iranians took part in the 2020 Tokyo Games under the flag of the Republic of Azerbaijan. They included Milad Beigi, an Azerbaijan national taekwondo team member who won a bronze medal in the 2016 Rio games; swimmer Maryam Sheikhalizadeh and Reza Mehmandoost, the former head coach of the Iranian national taekwondo team, who coached the Azerbaijan national taekwondo team in the Tokyo Games.

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