Jordan’s female boxers go for the glory
In a sweaty, testosterone-charged Amman gym, where Jordan’s top boxers are honing their technique and fitness for next month’s Olympics, there is a phenomenon that would appal many traditionalists in this conservative region.
Next to the pumped up guys are a small squad of women boxers trying their hardest to punch each others’ lights out.
The women are not bound for the Olympics, but they have already achieved glory. They have become the first women boxers in the Arab Middle East. In doing so, they are striking a blow against the stereotypes of Arab women being weak and defenceless.
[cont’] Sarah Alamiah, a 17-year-old student, grins out of the side of her mouth as she explains that the traditionalists regard the pioneering boxers as immoral.
“I am not a bad girl,” she says, “and I don’t want people to think I am a bad girl. I just like the sport. I don’t care what men think, I will do what I like. And what I want to do most of all is to take the guys on and beat them.”
In the ring, clad in protective helmets and singlets, Susanne Abu Drei is squaring up to Suzan Mersa, a trainee accountant. Susanne lets fly with a right arm jab that catches her opponent on the chin. It clearly stung.
As Susanne is so well brought up, instead of moving in for the kill, she promptly shouts out “Sorry!” instead.
Just then the coach signals it is time for a breather and the girls rest against the ropes. Suzan is still stroking her chin. “It’s an interesting sort of pain,” she says with a grin.
The idol of these aspiring fighters is Leila Ali, the daughter of the legendary former World Heavyweight Champion Mohammed Ali. All the girls say they would like to be good enough to eventually challenge her.
The women’s boxing team was established with the blessing of the progressive Jordanian Royal Family, which is doing its best to make the country a Middle Eastern beacon of gender equality.
“I hope this is a new beginning. We don’t want discrimination between men and women in our society,” says Susanne. Amongst the tough-looking men wielding upper cuts and hooks, I expect to hear some disparaging remarks.
But if they disapprove of their sidekicks, they are too on message to say.”Boxing is a universal sport and can be for men and women,” says Algerian coach Benngadi Abdel Madjid, a former amateur world champion. “Why shouldn’t the more conservative countries like Saudi Arabia follow Jordan’s example?”
Ibrahim Zaboub, a national amateur lightweight champion who will be shouldering Jordanian medal hopes during the forthcoming Olympic Games, agrees.
“We have to take women’s boxing seriously. Look at Mohammed Ali’s daughter, she’s a champion and she can even beat men.”
It is hard to imagine this scene taking place in conservative nations such as Saudi Arabia. But revolutions have to start somewhere.