At 15 years old, Amaiya Zafar, a Muslim girl from Minnesota, fell in love with amateur boxing. Now, a year later, she is fighting to box, while observing her faith.
With so few women boxers, Zafar has always struggled to find opponents. Standing at about 5 feet tall with a weight of less than 120 pounds, Zafar, now 16, faces an even larger challenge in attempting to find women in her weight class and age range. These challenges are only augmented by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) rules.
Current international boxing rules mandate that she cannot cover her arms, lower legs, or head, a large problem for Zafar, who wears a hijab.
Though Zafar has gained the acceptance of fellow boxers at her gym, the Circle of Discipline, current international boxing rules mandate that she cannot cover her arms, lower legs, or head, a large problem for Zafar, who wears a hijab.
When Zafar travelled to the Sugar Bert Boxing National Championships in Florida, wearing her usual outfit, hijab and all, officials cancelled her match. Zafar was disqualified and her opponent, 15-year-old Aliyah Charbonier became the winner.
Even after asking the USA Boxing organization if she could wear thin leggings, a long-sleeve shirt under, and her hijab under her boxing gear (like she does while practicing), the organization denied her request.
As a result, when Zafar travelled to the Sugar Bert Boxing National Championships in Florida, wearing her usual outfit, hijab and all, officials cancelled her match. Zafar was disqualified and her opponent, 15-year-old Aliyah Charbonier became the winner.
However, Charbonier, realizing the unfairness of the situation, decided to do something. She approached Zafar, gave her the winning belt, and stated, “This is yours. They disqualified you. You’re the true winner. This is unfair,” Zafar told the Washington Post. The two girls then hugged and the sponsors of the event gave each girl a belt.
Bert Wells, the president and CEO of Sugar Bert Boxing Promotions, stated the organization would gladly welcome Zafar back and hopes that she will get a chance to fight.
When asked why she decided to show her solidarity, Charbonier told the Washington Post, “It’s just not right. It’s not really a distraction for me what she’s wearing. She still had on gloves and headgear. I felt really bad for her. They didn’t give her a chance to fight. We tried to tell them that it was all right, but for safety purposes they say they need to have a visual of your arms. And yet they still have 18-year-olds fighting 20-somethings. It wasn’t right.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who have been supporting Zafar’s efforts to box, thanked Charbonier for her support and continue to urge USA Boxing to amend their rules. USA Boxing’s executive director, Michael Martino, to MPR News’ Laura Yuen that there was not much the organization could do.
Since USA Boxing takes their guidelines from AIBA, they can change their rules only when AIBA allows them to. Therefore, USA Boxing has asked the AIBA headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland to decide if a new rule should be implemented. But until any ruling appears, USA officials cannot change anything.
According to Martino, the main fear of covering up is that referees would not be able to see if players were hurt during the match or hiding a preexisting injury, which could easily be checked before a fight. Nevertheless, Martino supports the current rules. “We have 30,000 amateur boxers in the United States,” he said. “So if you make allowances for one religious group, what if another comes in and says we have a different type of uniform we have to wear? You have to draw a line some place.”
Though it still remains unclear why that line must suddenly be drawn at hijabs.