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Iranian Athlete Seeks Asylum In Czech Republic

PRAGUE -- An Iranian national who left his team during an international rowing competition in the Czech Republic says he is seeking asylum, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

In his first interview after leaving the team, Mehdi Haghshomar, a member of Iran's national rowing team who traveled to Prague in August to take part in the International Rowing Championships, told Radio Farda on October 12 that he was seeking refugee status.

Haghshomar said that the actions of the team's head coach led him to leave his teammates and seek asylum. He did not give further details.

There have been many contradictory statements in Iranian media since August about his whereabouts.

It was also said by the head of the team that he had been banned from leaving Iran or that he was not an official member of Iran's rowing team.

Haghshomar denied those reports and said he left Iran with the team, participated in the competition, and attended its closing ceremony even though the team had been banned from taking part.

He told Radio Farda that all Iranian national teams that attend competitions abroad are under heavy pressure not to become too friendly with athletes from other teams.

Exchanging shirts with other competitors, which is a common practice in many sports, is strictly prohibited for Iranian athletes, particularly with teams from countries like the United States or Canada.

Haghshomar, who is currently living in a refugee camp in the Czech Republic, said he is awaiting an answer from Czech officials on his request for asylum.