Grappling with taboos, Iraqi women join wrestling squad

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Coach Nhaaia dhahir Mohsen, 50, sits surrounded by female wrestlers from the Iraq's first women's wrestling squad, in Diwaniya, Iraq November 10, 2018. (Reuters)
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Iraqi women, part of the country's first women's wrestling squad, face each other during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya, Iraq November 10, 2018. (Reuters)
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Women leave the gym after their exercise, as part of the country's first women's wrestling squad, in Diwaniya, Iraq November 10, 2018. (Reuters)
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Iraqi women wrestle during practice at the sports club, as part of the country's first women's wrestling squad in Diwaniya, Iraq November 10, 2018. (Reuters)
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Iraqi women, part of the country's first women's wrestling squad, sit on the bus as they leave the gym after exercises in Diwaniya, Iraq November 10, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 15 November 2018
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Grappling with taboos, Iraqi women join wrestling squad

DIWANIYA, Iraq: The toughest fight that Iraqi freestyle wrestler Alia Hussein ever faced was convincing her family that women should be allowed to grapple.
The 26-year-old student was a keen cyclist and basketball player but when she told her family last year that she wanted to try her hand at the physical world of wrestling she was met with abuse.
"I was humiliated and even beaten by my family, but I defied them all," Hussein told Reuters.
"I feel that I can express myself through this sport. I wanted to prove to society that wrestling is not confined to men only and that Iraqi women can be wrestlers and can win and fight."
On the blue mats of the Al-Rafideen Club in the conservative city of Diwaniya, some 180 km (110 miles) south of Baghdad, Hussein trains three times a week with 30 other female wrestlers, some still wearing headscarves. When a big competition comes up, they train every day.
In September, Hussein won a silver medal in the 75 kg (165 lb) freestyle category at a regional event in Lebanon and gold at a local tournament in Baghdad.
"I faced opposition from my family at the beginning, but after my participation in Baghdad and Beirut tournaments they started to encourage me, thank God," Hussein said.
This is the second attempt by the Iraqi Wrestling Federation (IWF) to grow women's wrestling, this time prompted by the threat of a ban by the sport's global body if they didn't.
The first ended when the club in Diwaniya was disbanded in 2012 after complaints from the local community that the sport was in defiance of local traditions and culture.
The IWF has managed to recruit 70 female wrestlers who train at 15 clubs across the country, a spokesman for the body said. Each is entitled to a payment of 100,000 Iraqi dinars ($84) a month, but the money has stopped for the last three months as the IWF invests in a new wrestling hall in Baghdad.
Despite the financial offer, recruitment is tough.
Nihaya Dhaher Hussein, a 50-year-old school teacher, is the driving force behind the burgeoning team in Diwaniya which started in 2016.
She drives the squad to practice, trains them and undertakes the dangerous task of convincing families to let their daughters, sisters or wives wrestle.
"A woman wrestling is alien to our conservative tribal society," she said. "The idea is hard to accept. It was so difficult to attract girls and convince their families.
"I was threatened myself by a brother of a player who verbally abused me and tried to hit me. It is so difficult to bring them to training and return them to their houses."


Meghan Markle’s father appeals to British queen over rift with daughter

Updated 17 December 2018
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Meghan Markle’s father appeals to British queen over rift with daughter

  • Meghan’s father said he had not had contact with his daughter for months and repeated text messages to Meghan had gone unanswered
  • Kensington Palace did not immediately comment on the interview

LONDON: Meghan Markle’s father directly appealed to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth on Monday to intercede and end his estrangement from his daughter, the wife of Prince Harry.
Former US actress Meghan, now the Duchess of Sussex, married Harry, the queen’s grandson and sixth-in-line to the throne, in a glittering ceremony at Windsor Castle in May.
But the immediate build-up to the wedding was overshadowed by her father, Thomas, a former lighting director for US TV soaps and sitcoms, who pulled out days beforehand after undergoing heart surgery.
Meghan’s father said he had not had contact with his daughter for months and repeated text messages to Meghan had gone unanswered.
When asked what message he had for Queen Elizabeth, 92, Thomas Markle said: “I would appreciate anything she can do and I would think that she would want to resolve the family problems.”
“All families, royal or otherwise, are the same and they should all be together certainly around the holidays,” Markle added.
Markle said that Meghan, 37, had not sent him a Christmas card but that he was hopeful that they could at some time build their relationship.
“Please reach out to me,” he said of Meghan. “I love my daughter very much and she has to know that... Just send me a text.”
“All I can say is that I’m here she knows it and I’ve reached out to her and I need her to reach back to me. I love her very much,” Markle said. “This can’t continue forever.”
Harry, 34, and Meghan are expecting their first child in the spring of 2019.
“I am certainly hoping that everything goes well and that they produce a beautiful baby and I’ll get to see a little Meghan or a little Harry — that would be very nice and I look forward to that happening,” Markle said.
“I think she’ll make a great Mom.”
Markle dismissed reports that Meghan could at times be rude. She was, he said, very polite as she had been raised on Hollywood stages.
When asked if she was a social climber, her father said: “She’s always been a very controlling person and that’s part of her nature but she has never been rude.”
Kensington Palace did not immediately comment on the interview.