Kasra Mehdipournejad, a taekwondo specialist and a refugee from Iran, is set to make his mark as the flag bearer for the Refugee Team at the European Games.
It has been six years since he last saw his Iranian parents and siblings, who encouraged him to stay in Germany. With the Games in Poland about to begin, Mehdipournejad believes this could be a dream debut for him, with the possibility of winning gold in the -80 kilogram category.
However, Mehdipournejad’s journey hasn’t been easy. His trip to Germany in 2017 took an unexpected turn, resulting in his separation from his immediate family.
“Originally, it was supposed to be just a trip, but then a family-related incident occurred in Iran,” he explained during a phone interview with AFP.
“My family on my mother’s side is against the Islamic regime, and after consulting with my parents, we decided it would be best for me to stay in Germany. They emphasized the importance of my safety, a normal life, and the continuation of my career.”
Adapting to a new life in a foreign country was initially challenging for Mehdipournejad, as he was far away from his loved ones.
“The first two years were really difficult. I had never been so far from my family,” he recalled. “At that time, I wasn’t sure if I would stay in Germany permanently. However, as time went on, I made friends and became involved in the community, which made things much better.”
Despite having settled down in Germany, Mehdipournejad always yearns to know what is happening with his family in Iran. However, he admits that he is unsure if he ever gets the full picture. “That is the biggest challenge because I am not sure about the actual situation,” he expressed. “Even if something has happened, they don’t inform me to prevent me from feeling stressed, sad, or angry.”
While enjoying the freedoms unavailable to his family and friends back home, Mehdipournejad has faced pressure from the Iranian regime, which sought to punish him through his wife, Parisa, an accomplished athlete who won a taekwondo silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games. “When we got married, she faced pressure from sports organizations and the government,” he revealed.
“Fortunately, she managed to join me. However, the situation in Iran continues to deteriorate, and anything is possible. The Islamic regime disregards people’s well-being and will silence voices, whether they belong to my family or others, without hesitation.”
Although Mehdipournejad qualified for the Iranian national team multiple times, he never had the opportunity to represent them. The Refugee Team has now given him an unexpected chance to compete at the international level.
“My German club supported me, but due to a limited budget, it was challenging for them to finance my international trips,” he explained. “Fortunately, I learned about the IOC refugee scholarship program, and after applying in late 2018, they began supporting me in 2019. Without their assistance, none of this would have been possible.”
Mehdipournejad, whose role models are his wife Parisa and his mother Roya, who has always supported him during competitions and training, hopes to bring pride to his family by participating in the greatest sporting event of all—the Paris Olympics next year. However, there is uncertainty whether his family will even learn about his accomplishments.
“I used to speak to my parents and brothers sometimes twice a day,” he lamented.
“However, for the past nine months, the regime has limited internet access.”