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March 6, 2012 / Man in the Mirror

London 2012 Olympics: Afghan females aim to box clever for women’s rights

By Jacquelin Magnay Sport Last updated: March 5th, 2012

A group of 20 Afghan females could show international sport a thing or two about women’s rights.

They have challenged the suppression of their sex in the Middle East country by boxing in the underbelly of the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul – the very place where fellow women were previously executed under the Taliban regime.

They wear traditional hijab clothing beneath tracksuits and look incongruous as they trade punches and skip around the dilapidated room in a heart-warming bid to make the London 2012 Olympics.

Sadaf Rahimi, the most likely prospect to make the Games, is one of three boxing sisters and she says her taxi-driving father gets threatening letters all the time because he allows his daughters to play sport.

The 17 year-old believes her – or any of her fellow Afghan women – boxing at the London Olympics will send the world a crucial message about women’s rights  in Afghanistan.

As they spar, short skirts – briefly considered by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) as mandatory uniform – are nowhere to be seen.

Thankfully, in recent days, the sport’s administrators have shown common sense and implemented a new rule which will directly impact on what female athletes can wear at the London Olympics.

The AIBA has now backed down from their inflammatory notion that would have limited female boxers to wearing  a skirt only, and has allowed female boxers the choice of wearing shorts, or a skirt.

It is to be hoped that the federation will support individuals ‘ choice of clothing, rather than dictating what national federations ought to impose as a dress code.
AIBA president Dr Ching-Kuo Wu said: “We never asked women to wear skirts, we heard recommendations about this from national federations and boxers. Some women want to wear shorts and some others want to wear skirts so … we shall make it optional.

And so to another breakthrough, in football, where the  International Football Association Board (IFAB), a rules body composed of Fifa and the four home nations, has now agreed that female footballers can wear a hijab during matches.

The change of heart is too late for the Iranian women’s team, who had to cancel an Olympic qualifying game in Jordan last year because they weren’t allowed to cover their hair, which their religion asks them to do.

The new rule also has to be officially ratified at a meeting in July, just before the Olympic Opening Ceremony, “pending health and safety checks.”

Fifa executive board member Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan has been pushing for the change and said he was “deeply grateful” the proposal to allow the hijab was unanimously endorsed.

But the reality is that no Muslim-dominated teams have made it through to the final Olympic standings, with Japan and North Korea being the Asian representatives and Cameroon and South Africa the African representatives.

Meanwhile, three countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei – have failed to send female athletes to the Olympics.

Saudi Arabia, which has come under intense criticism recently from Human Rights Watch for their tight restrictions on women playing sport, did send a solitary horse rider to the Singapore Youth Olympics in 2010.

It is staggering to consider, but at the Atlanta Olymics in 1996 there were 26 countries which did not send a single female athlete.

Behind the scenes at the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, there are intense negotiations about whether there should be women from every country participating at the London Olympics. The  IOC says of such a goal: “We are very confident of a positive outcome.”

If that is indeed the case, we can now move the focus on to another annoying male imposed rule: the international beach volleyball bosses and their silly requirement about having maximum inch sizes on bikini bottoms.


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