Iran’s Greco-Roman national team wrestler Ali Arsalan has defected and will represent Serbia in future competitions, including the upcoming European championship.
In addition to his many national titles, Arsalan has earned four gold medals and two bronzes in Asian tournaments during his career. He has not commented on reasons for his defection.
Arsalan, who left U23 World Wrestling Championships in Romania emptyhanded in 2018, is set to be competing as a member of the Serbian national team in the 72-kilogram category.
The news of Arsalan’s defection comes only days after a member of the Iranian women’s handball team, Shaqayeq Bapiri, confirmed after a tournament in Spain that she broke away from the team and would not return due to forced hijab rules in Iran and other restrictions. Last year, Iran's only female Olympic medalist Kimia Alizadeh changed her nationality.
Around 30 Iranian athletes have defected in recent years, seeking asylum in other countries. Some took part in this year’s Olympics in Tokyo as non-state athletes.
In addition to dress code restrictions, another issue forcing Iranian athletes to defect is Tehran’s policy of not allowing them to compete against Israelis, as was the case for Iranian judoka Olympian, and 2018 world champion Saeid Mollaei.