LONDON: The inaugural World Boxing Super Series final in Jeddah last month may have put Saudi Arabia on the boxing map, but women’s pugilism in the Kingdom is proving a knockout success even without international recognition.
That is the message from Halah Al-Hamrani, below, who has determinedly trained Saudi Arabian women in boxing and kickboxing for the past 16 years at her Jeddah-based gym FlagBoxing.
She hopes to stage the first boxing competitions for females in the Kingdom next year, and has lofty ambitions of training one to glory at the Olympics.
“My ultimate dream for women’s boxing in Saudi is definitely for one of them to go to the Olympics,” Al-Hamrani told Arab News.
Al-Hamrani was “very excited” to attend the WBSS final, which saw Britain’s Callum Smith power to a seventh-round knockout of his compatriot George Groves at a packed King Abdullah Sports City Arena on Sept. 28.
“It was an incredible day for me,” Al-Hamrani said, before adding: “(I was) happily surprised to see that 20 percent of the crowd were women.”
The popularity of boxing among women is largely due to the passion and perseverance of Al-Hamrani, who is harnessing the power of social media to deal a right hook to deep-seated perceptions that boxing is too brutal and violent for females.
“I try to give (them) as much information as possible and show the process through social media such as Instagram,” said Al-Hamrani, who became a certified boxer at the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) in Arizona after honing her martial arts prowess while studying at the University of San Diego in California.
“I think it’s become a little less scary for women and I think it attracts them to the sport. We’re still at the early stages because you’re dealing with females who have never really been exposed to the sport or had sport in their lives.
“I train around 150 to 200 women from early teens to 60. Recently we have seen a few girls that have the potential to go into competition and that are interested in going into competition,” said Al-Hamrani, whose interest in combat sports was first kindled when she started karate at the age of 12 at a Jeddah private school.
“I don’t know if it’s something that’s going to happen really quickly, but we are going to start trying to provide local competitions to get these females out of their houses and we can try and see what potential is out there.”
Al-Hamrani intends to wield her considerable sporting influence — she represents mixed martial arts (MMA) on the Saudi Olympic Committee — to help women’s boxing jab its way into the public consciousness.
“I think I have a good platform to be able to get these women into competition. I also have the ear of the president of the Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation (Omar Al-Ghamd) and he’s very much willing to help.
“I hope that we can see it grow the right way and then create an Olympic champion as well. I think it is possible that we might able to stage competitions in 2019.”
The benefits of boxing extend way beyond the physical and health aspect of training hard, Al-Hamrani claimed. Boxing and martial arts afford women “incredible benefits”, she said, including “empowerment” above all.
“I know that sounds cliched and I know a lot of people are like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ but it’s truly the case. I can’t say enough how I’ve seen women become empowered through the sport. The sport itself helps you develop your mental strength as well as physical.
“In the beginning, they don’t care about that and want to develop themselves or ask if they are going to lose weight. It’s always about the aesthetics and then eventually you start to see they’re becoming mentally extremely strong individuals and they carry themselves differently.”
Al-Hamrani admitted 2018 has been “an incredible year” for her and other Saudi women thanks to the sweeping reforms that have been introduced, including the end of the driving ban in June.
She is also delighted that Saudi public schools have started to offer physical education for girls.
“It’s something that all of us have waited to see. The country and our government are in support of us and is backing women empowerment.
“I am surrounded by women who are incredible. I think they’re going to have so much to offer to the world, not just Saudi Arabia in the next years to come, Inshallah.”