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Afghan girls take to boxing
Athletes train for Olympics; one has already qualified, coach says
By Sulaimon Qardosh
KABUL – The small, dilapidated gym is hardly warmer than the frigid -10 Celsius temperature outdoors, but the conditions don’t seem to bother the girls working on their punching techniques. Young and deceptively fragile-looking, the girls have taken on the burden of challenging opponents of women’s sports in Afghanistan and of preparing for the London Olympics.
“If just a few years ago someone had told me our Afghan girls would be boxing in the ring, I’d have said this was a dream or a fairy tale,” Kabul University history instructor Shoqir Abbas said. “Under the Taliban, women wouldn’t even be let out into the street without a male escort; today, they are getting more and more freedom.”
One sign of that freedom is the formation of a national women’s boxing team. Created in 2007, it has 30 members ages 15 to 25, coach Muhammad Saber Sharifi said.
“The team has existed for four years already; we managed to gather it over a short time and have even participated in international competitions,” he said. “The latest championship was in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in 2011, and our boxers brought home three medals: Shabnam Rahimi, gold; Fahima Sherzad, silver; and Sadaf Rahimi, bronze. The team is now preparing for the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games.”
Rahimi, 17, has already qualified for the Olympics, he said. If the team wins medals at the AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships in China in May, “We’ll have far better chances to participate in the London Olympics,” Sharifi said.
Although they lack a proper gym and use an old weightlifting room to practice, the boxers have grown more enthusiastic, Sharifi said, particularly after they earned some medals in the latest championship – “which had a very positive effect on them,” he said.
Boxers have overcome challenges
Part of the reason for the success is the philosophy the coach instils in the athletes.
“Boxing isn’t war,” the coach repeats. Sherzad started boxing just seven months ago but has already won a silver medal.
“Our coach keeps reminding us that we’re boxing, not fighting,” she said. “I got his message full well as I went into the ring to box against a Tajik rival.”
Rahimi has been in boxing for more than a year, which she sees as the best time in her life so far.
“Thank Allah, I have a (family) that supports me,” she said. “We are four daughters in the family, and we all go in for sports. One plays on the national women’s football team, and the other three of us are boxers. Honestly, we’ve long stopped worrying that we are girls and that doing sports may be dangerous.”
“There were problems at the outset, and ... we even thought about quitting boxing,” Rahimi said. “But now we understand it’s our future; it’s everything to us. We know and remember where we live and what kind of traditions we have – but we do nothing that might harm our family. We enjoy boxing and don’t want to drop it.”
The team aspires to do well enough at the Summer Olympics to bring fame to Afghanistan, the girls added.