Berlin boxer Zeina Nassar’s dream to compete in the Tokyo Olympic Games is drawing closer after winning the right to compete in hijab inside the ring, AFP reported.
“It was as if I had to prove twice as much because not only I am a woman who boxes, but I also wear the headscarf,” Nassar said during a break between grueling training sessions.
“In the end, it made me stronger,” she added.
The 21-year-old, who discovered female boxing by watching online videos as a teenager, is a German amateur featherweight champion and dares to dream of Olympic glory.
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Nassar won the right to compete in hijab only last February after the International Boxing Association (AIBA) amended its rules. The new rules allow Muslim boxers to wear a hijab and cover full body in the ring.
Next year’s Tokyo Olympics and then the Paris Games in 2024 “are my great dream, my great goal,” said the young woman.
“Only sporting performance should count and we must not be reduced to our external appearance,” she added.
Her list of achievements already includes six Berlin titles in the featherweight category and the 2018 German Championship title.
In 24 official fights, Nassar, who weighs 57 kilos, recorded 18 victories, including one by KO, which is rare in this category.
“My boxing style is very unconventional but I’m super fast. It’s my strength,” she said, mimicking a few uppercuts and hooks. She added, “For my opponents, it’s very unpleasant to box against me.”
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Though AIBA amended rules to allow hijab, the Olympic charter prohibits the display of any political, religious, or racial symbols.
Fighting for her rights, the female boxer has become a role model for young Muslim women in particular.
“If you want to get to the top, you have to fight,” read a recent message by the boxer.
“Nothing is simply a gift. Accepting challenges and growing beyond them. And don’t forget to smile.
“I want to show people that anything is possible if you fight for it.”
The restriction on hijab in boxing became most notably after the case of the 15-year-old American boxer, Amaiya Zafar.
After years of lobbying against the American boxing organization, they finally adopted a new religious exemption rule in 2017. The rule allowed Zafar to become the first hijabi boxer in the US.
Shirzanan, an activist group for the rights of female Muslim athletes worldwide, has successfully lobbied on behalf of this issue and continues to fight for other sports to drop their restrictions ahead of the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Japan.
Interestingly, the American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad made history at Rio 2016 Games as the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing.
However, other sports continue to experience similar discrimination against hijabi Muslim women, like judo which banned Indonesia’s judoka Miftahul Jannah last October from the Asian Para Games when she refused to remove her hijab.