Iranian Olympic skier Atefeh Ahmadi has quit her home country and applied for asylum in Germany, a Persian-language media outlet outside Iran reported Saturday, publishing an emotional interview with the athlete.
Ahmadi, in her early 20s, was the only Iranian woman to qualify for last year's Beijing Winter Games.
"I left Iran to reach my goal, but my heart is with Iran. I love my Iran. I love my people," she told London-based Iran International.
"If I could, I would stand by the people so that we can reach freedom together," she said.
Iran erupted into protests in September last year following the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman of Kurdish origin, after she was arrested for allegedly violating the Islamic republic's dress rules.
Hundreds have been killed in the ensuing security crackdown, according to Norway-based group Iran Human Rights, while authorities say thousands have been arrested.
Ahmadi said she applied for a visa independently, and that applying through Iran's ski federation required "a house deed as the security deposit to the federation".
"I don't think that putting the document (the house deed) in the federation's mortgage is the right thing for a national sportsman or woman" to do, she said in the interview.
She also cited discussions about prioritising the men's team over women skiers.
"They said because of this uprising and these recent events, the dispatches are reduced to a minimum," she said. "Priority is given to the men's team."
Ahmadi also complained of heavy Iranian security surveillance for overseas visits.
"The security people who took our passports most of the trips always followed us, they even looked at the juices in our hands to see what we drink... what kind of meat do we have," Ahmadi said, alluding to Islamic requirements.
Iran ski federation chief Abbas Nazarian said Ahmadi's move "was a personal decision and seems to have been planned for a while."
"She was one of the best in Iranian skiing and we supported this athlete in every way," he said Saturday, according to the Tasnim news agency.
"Ahmadi could have been in the competitive environment for at least another decade," he lamented in the report, adding: "Federations cannot manage the personal decisions of individuals."
Ahmadi vowed to "come back strong" in a post sharing the video interview on her Instagram page.
"My family suffered a lot for my skiing... I promise them that I will reach the goal for which I left Iran," she said in tears.
"We must always be strong and fight for our goals," she added.
Ahmadi is not the first female athlete to leave Iran recently.
Prominent chess player Sara Khadem, 25, fled to Spain after taking part in an international tournament in December without Iran's mandatory hijab.
In 2020, Iran's first ever female Olympic medallist, taekwondo athlete Kimia Alizadeh, left Iran in 2020 for the Netherlands.