Ramla Ali set to make women’s boxing history in Jeddah

Ramla Ali set to make women’s boxing history in Jeddah
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Ramla Ali was born in Somalia in 1989 but fled the war-torn Horn of Africa country with her family at the age of 12 to seek asylum in the UK. (Supplied)
Ramla Ali set to make women’s boxing history in Jeddah
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Ramla Ali was born in Somalia in 1989 but fled the war-torn Horn of Africa country with her family at the age of 12 to seek asylum in the UK. (Supplied)
Ramla Ali set to make women’s boxing history in Jeddah
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Ramla Ali was born in Somalia in 1989 but fled the war-torn Horn of Africa country with her family at the age of 12 to seek asylum in the UK. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 August 2022

Ramla Ali set to make women’s boxing history in Jeddah

Ramla Ali set to make women’s boxing history in Jeddah
  • British Somali fighter has overcome adversity to take on Crystal Garcia Nova on Usyk-Joshua undercard
  • Law graduate works with UNICEF and set up ‘Sisters Club’ to help vulnerable females

For Ramla Ali, history awaits on Saturday night.

When the British Somali boxer takes on Crystal Garcia Nova on the Oleksandr Usyk versus Anthony Joshua card at Rage on the Red Sea, she will be part of the first ever female professional boxing bout in Saudi Arabia.

As a Muslim and African female pugilist, it is a moment she does not take lightly, and one that did not come easy either.

Adversity has been her constant companion throughout her career.

Ali was born in Somalia in 1989 but fled the war-torn Horn of Africa country with her family at the age of two to seek asylum in the UK.

In school, Ali struggled with her weight, so her mother sent her to a local gym in England where she soon discovered “boxercise” and started taking up the sweet science at the age of 12 without her family’s knowledge.

She caught the eye of talent scouts with regional success, representing England across Europe and eventually winning multiple amateur boxing titles.

But she claims it was not winning amateur titles and other national level achievements that made her take the leap into professional boxing.

Rather it was sparring with formidable US professional world champions and training in gyms across Europe that gave her the belief she deserved a place in the professional ranks.

“Every competition means the world to you at that time. Looking back obviously they don’t all seem to hold the same value but they’re all important chapters in the journey of a sporting career,” said Ali. “Now my family are my biggest supporters which means everything to me as I don’t think I would have wanted to continue if there was still conflict (with them).

“My parents of course would rather I didn’t punch people for a living, but they now understand it’s given me a platform to also do great work outside of the sport.”

Ali is a survivor and continues to achieve her goals despite constant challenges.

‘I haven’t had the privilege of being funded by my country during my international amateur years,” she said. “Every tournament, every camp, every coach or physio was paid for by myself and Richard (Moore, husband and manager), and with this comes the pressure of needing to perform to make sure that it’s all worth it.

“There is definitely a greater expectation of how I should carry myself in comparison to other boxers perhaps because of the young women I represent, the charities and NGOs that I work with or the French fashion brands I’m partnered with,” Ali added. “But this is a pressure I’m happy to carry because fundamentally I want my future daughter and that generation to have a role model that they can be proud of. A career and journey they can aspire to, and not without failure or faults, because I’ve experienced both sides of the coin, but this is life.”

Ali’s work outside the ring is as inspiring as it is inside it. She still deems her law degree as her biggest personal achievement and is keen to highlight the work she does with UNICEF to raise awareness of important issues in East Africa and the Middle East.

In 2018, she founded the Sisters Club. It started as a once-a-week self-defense class in a London gym, and having gained sponsorships from the likes of Nike, Pantene and other brands, Ali saw it as a way to give back to the community.

The charity offered a safe space for hijab-wearing women of color and those that have suffered from domestic violence, giving them a chance to learn about self-defense through boxing and improve their self-confidence.

Now operating across four gyms in London, Ali hopes to see the Sisters Club expand to the US and the Middle East.

Another high point for Ali was representing Somalia at Tokyo 2020, the first fighter from the African nation, male or female, to take part in the boxing competition at the Olympic Games. Her pride at representing her country led her to help set up the Somali Boxing Federation.

Unfortunately, Ali’s hopes that establishing the federation would give others a fighting chance to represent their country were countered with the disappointment of discovering Somali sports is rife with corruption.

Funding provided by the International Olympic Committee for training purposes was allegedly misappropriated by officials instead of being invested in fighters.

Looking back, Ali questions whether she should have gone down that path but remains grateful she represented her country at the Olympics before discovering any wrongdoings, saying: “To some degree, mine and my husband’s naivety and optimism were a blessing.”

Luck, and help, haven’t always been on Ali’s side and she believes far more can be done to help female fighters make the grade.

“I would like to see more of an effort from the other promotional outfits across the UK and US to push female boxing, not just through token signings but a real shift in the landscape,” she said.

Although more females are being contracted — she highlights that the “Boxxer Series” via Sky Sports recently signed two British fighters — their pay remains a fraction of their male counterparts.

“If you look at the sport of tennis, it wasn’t when the women insisted on fairer pay that they received it,” said Ali. “Rather it was when the male players like Andy Murray refused to enter tournaments because of the lack of equality, or when the pressure of journalists and media became too much, that organizations finally started making a difference in their approach.”

It is no surprise that Ali will be one of the two women who make history in Jeddah on Saturday.

Her opponent Nova is a tall, tough super bantamweight from the Dominican Republic with a knockout ratio of over 80 percent.

It will be Ali’s hardest fight yet, but she’s come to Saudi Arabia to win. Since January, she has been training in Los Angeles with coach and former professional boxer Manny Robles.

“California has without a doubt the most female world champions and the highest level of competition and so as my career progresses there is a greater need to up my training regime,” she said. “I am working with Argentinian strength and conditioning coach Mattias Erbin as well, who has been responsible for several world champions over the last 10 years.”

All the hard work, Ali hopes, will come to fruition at Rage on the Red Sea.

“I hope when people look back at me, they see a person who had everything against them in life, but through perseverance and a refusal to quit still managed to have nearly all the same opportunities in life, and achieved at the highest level,” Ali said.

“This fight will be without a doubt one of the high points in my boxing career. To have been part of helping shape the culture towards creating greater equality in the region is more important than my own personal successes or feelings.”


Portugal cruise past Czechs as Dalot bags brace

Portugal cruise past Czechs as Dalot bags brace
Updated 25 September 2022

Portugal cruise past Czechs as Dalot bags brace

Portugal cruise past Czechs as Dalot bags brace
  • Portugal lead Group 2 on 10 points, two ahead of Spain who were stunned by Switzerland 2-1 at home on Saturday
  • Ronaldo failed to improve his record tally of 117 international goals and was left with a bloodied face after a clash with Vaclik early in the game

PRAGUE: Defender Diogo Dalot scored twice as Portugal eased past the Czech Republic 4-0 in Prague on Saturday to get within a point of reaching the UEFA Nations League play-offs.
Portugal, who won the first edition of the Nations League in 2019, lead Group 2 on 10 points, two ahead of Spain who were stunned by Switzerland 2-1 at home on Saturday.
Portugal host Spain next Tuesday in their final group game.
Dalot opened the scoring on 33 minutes as he nutmegged Czech goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik from a cutback provided by Rafael Leao.
Dalot sprinted down the pitch, passed the ball to his right and dashed into the box to pick up Leao’s pass from the left following a cross narrowly missed by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Bruno Fernandes made it 2-0 in first-half stoppage time as Mario Rui found him facing Vaclik with a low cross from the left.
A minute later, the hosts squandered a penalty kick as Patrik Schick fired over the crossbar after VAR spotted Ronaldo handling the ball inside the box.
Dalot added a second as he stunned Vaclik with a low left-foot shot from outside the area on 52 minutes.
Second-half substitute Diogo Jota headed home a late fourth from close range following a corner and Ronaldo’s glancing header that found him at the far post.
Ronaldo failed to improve his record tally of 117 international goals and was left with a bloodied face after a clash with Vaclik early in the game.


Djokovic makes stylish return at Laver Cup as Federer watches on

Djokovic makes stylish return at Laver Cup as Federer watches on
Updated 24 September 2022

Djokovic makes stylish return at Laver Cup as Federer watches on

Djokovic makes stylish return at Laver Cup as Federer watches on
  • Djokovic showed no signs of rust as he played for the first time since winning the seventh Wimbledon crown
  • The 35-year-old's dominant victory over Tiafoe put Team Europe 6-4 up at London's O2 Arena

LONDON: Novak Djokovic made an impressive return after two months out of action as the Team Europe star thrashed Team World’s Frances Tiafoe 6-1, 6-3 with Roger Federer cheering him on at the Laver Cup on Saturday.
Djokovic showed no signs of rust as he played for the first time since winning the seventh Wimbledon crown of his remarkable career in July.
The 35-year-old’s dominant victory over Tiafoe put Team Europe 6-4 up at London’s O2 Arena, with Djokovic set to return to court with Berrettini for a doubles match against Sock and Alex de Minaur on Saturday evening.
Djokovic, a 21-time Grand Slam champion, missed the US Open in September due to his unvaccinated status, leaving him to take an enforced break from competitive action.
He was quickly back in the old routine against US Open semifinalist Tiafoe as he broke in the fourth game and again in the sixth to take the opening set in just 23 minutes.
Djokovic went for the kill as he landed yet another break in the first game of the second set and cruised to the finish line with Federer waiting to congratulate him at courtside.
Federer said a tearful goodbye to tennis late on Friday night when the 20-time Grand Slam champion and doubles partner Rafael Nadal were beaten by Tiafoe and Jack Sock.
The 41-year-old announced earlier this month that he would retire after the Laver Cup due to the knee problems that had kept him on the sidelines since Wimbledon in 2021.
Federer’s fitness issues meant he could only play one doubles match, so Matteo Berrettini was called into the Team Europe squad to replace the Swiss legend after the last game of his incredible career.
With Federer watching on, Berrettini proved a capable deputy as he defeated Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (13/11), 4-6, 10/7 in Saturday’s first game.
The 26-year-old Italian, who finished as the 2021 Wimbledon runner-up, had to dig deep to hold off a spirited challenge from Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old Canadian rising star.
On the first day of his life after tennis, Federer could have been forgiven for following Nadal’s example and heading off for a well-earned rest.
But Federer showed his passion for tennis is unlikely to fade anytime soon as he sat courtside to support Berrettini with the rest of the Team Europe squad despite the post-midnight finish to his emotional finale.
Federer, who was involved in setting up the Ryder Cup-style Laver tournament, had said “we can all party together” as the 17,500-crowd raised the roof with their acclaim for one of the sport’s all-time greats after his final match.
There was an inevitable hangover at the O2 Arena as the atmosphere during Berrettini’s clash with Auger-Aliassime struggled to live up to the great man’s swansong.
But Federer looked relaxed as he mimicked Berrettini’s clenched-fist celebration as the Italian took the first set after Auger-Aliassime saved five set points in the tie-break.
Auger-Aliassime was unfazed by losing that 75-minute opening set and levelled the match in the second set before Berrettini finally closed out the victory in the first to 10 points ‘Laver Breaker’.
In the day’s second singles match, Team World’s Taylor Fritz beat British world number eight Cameron Norrie 6-1, 4-6, 10/8.
Norrie was only playing because Nadal had opted to pull out of the rest of the tournament after the Federer doubles match for what organizers said were “personal reasons.”
The Spanish world number three has been struggling with an abdominal injury while his wife is heavily pregnant.


Egypt considers bid to host 2036 Olympics

Egypt considers bid to host 2036 Olympics
Updated 24 September 2022

Egypt considers bid to host 2036 Olympics

Egypt considers bid to host 2036 Olympics
  • If successful with its bid, Egypt would become the first African or Arab nation to host the Olympics

CAIRO: Egypt is planning to apply to host the 2036 Olympic Games, sports minister Ashraf Sobhi said on Saturday during a reception for IOC president Thomas Bach in Cairo.
“President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has given his permission for Egypt to put itself forward as host for the 2036 Olympics,” Sobhi said.
If successful with its bid, Egypt would become the first African or Arab nation to host the Olympics.
“Egypt has solid sporting infrastructures and if it can host the Olympic Games, it will be historic,” Bach said during a joint press conference with Sobhi.
An Egyptian official announced earlier in the month that Egypt, Greece and Saudi Arabia were in talks to jointly host the 2030 World Cup.
Egypt staged the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, as well as last year’s handball world championship during the Covid-19 pandemic.


Barca confirm injuries for defensive duo Araujo and Kounde

Barca confirm injuries for defensive duo Araujo and Kounde
Updated 24 September 2022

Barca confirm injuries for defensive duo Araujo and Kounde

Barca confirm injuries for defensive duo Araujo and Kounde
  • Araujo was taken off inside the first minute of Uruguay's 1-0 loss to Iran
  • Kounde lasted just 23 minutes of France's 2-0 Nations League win over Austria

BARCELONA: Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo suffered a thigh-muscle tear while on international duty, his club said Saturday, while confirming Jules Kounde also had a thigh issue.
Araujo was taken off inside the first minute of Uruguay’s 1-0 loss to Iran in a friendly on Friday night. Kounde lasted just 23 minutes of France’s 2-0 Nations League win over Austria on Thursday.
The central defenders will miss their countries’ next match and are likely to be unavailable for Barcelona’s first games when club football resumes.
With the Clasico approaching on October 16, Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez may need to construct a new defense for upcoming fixtures, including a reprieve for Gerard Pique, who has been largely frozen out.
Since he was registered to play for the Catalan side, following his summer switch from Sevilla, Kounde has become a key part of Barcelona’s rear guard, often used at right-back. Spanish reports suggest he will be out for at least three weeks, although the club did not specify a recovery time.
The international break has been problematic for Barca. Memphis Depay suffered a hamstring injury with the Netherlands in their 2-0 win over Poland on Thursday. Frenkie de Jong was substituted for precaution in the same match.


Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark

Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark
Updated 24 September 2022

Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark

Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark
  • Tchouaméni was excellent as France, missing nine regulars, beat Austria 2-0 in the Nations League on Thursday night
  • The young midfielder gets another chance to push his claim for a permanent starting place when Les Bleus travel to play Denmark

PARIS: Amid mounting injuries and off-field problems, at least France coach Didier Deschamps has one less thing to worry about heading into the World Cup.
Aurélien Tchouaméni looks a very good option to start in midfield.
Tchouaméni is 22 with only 13 caps but is already playing with the maturity of a seasoned international and, with Paul Pogba’s place in Qatar looking in doubt, his form is most welcome for Deschamps.
Tchouaméni was excellent as France, missing nine regulars including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, striker Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Pogba, beat Austria 2-0 in the Nations League on Thursday night.
The young midfielder gets another chance to push his claim for a permanent starting place when Les Bleus travel to play Denmark in Copenhagen on Sunday for the last group game in the Nations League — the last match for both sides before the World Cup.
It should be a competitive game, too, with the Danes still in contention for first place in Group 1 and a place in next year’s Final Four.
Defending champion France already lost their title in June and are fighting with Austria to avoid relegation to the second tier. Last-place Austria, one point behind France, host Croatia, which hold top spot but are only one point ahead of Denmark.
His own form and other circumstances have accelerated Tchouaméni’s international career.
Pogba is recovering from a knee injury and is weighed down by an extortion probe involving his elder brother Mathias.
Tchouaméni is the latest in a long production line of talent to emerge from the French league, following in the footsteps of Benzema, Kylian Mbappé, Anthony Martial and many others.
Like Mbappé and Martial, he came through at Monaco — which boasts one of the finest scouting networks in Europe.
Real Madrid paid 100 million euros ($97 million) to sign Tchouaméni in the offseason and then sold Casemiro to Manchester United.
That Madrid fans are hardly missing Casemiro speaks volumes for how easily Tchouaméni has settled into a side leading the league with six straight wins.
So what makes Tchouaméni so good?
He is the complete midfield package. But perhaps his greatest attribute is composure.
He showed that on his first start for France in a World Cup qualifier away to Ukraine one year ago, when it looked like he’d been playing at international level for years.
In a similar way to Pogba, he is a tall, lean and athletic player who always plays with his head up. He has an assured first touch wherever he receives the ball, and sprays passes short or long with equal effect.
He showed that against Austria by pinging a 50-meter pass to Mbappé that landed not only at the forward’s feet, but into his path as he was running onto it. That was just minutes into the game, when lesser players would have been settling down.
Rarely wasteful, Tchouaméni has the same knack as Kanté for knowing when to release the ball quickly and offload it to a better-placed teammate.
It may look obvious, but it ensures that — like Kanté — Tchouaméni’s rarely caught in possession and his calmness enables him to shake off players closing him down around the penalty area.
Even under pressure from an Austria striker on the edge of his own box, Tchouaméni dropped his shoulders, turned and completed a clean pass as casually as if it was a pre-season training session.
He drops deep to collect, is quick and covers ground well with his rangy running style.
Tchouaméni’s good at making late runs into the opposing area and he’s not afraid to shoot, either, having one 20-meter effort saved and then hitting the crossbar against Austria with a spectacular overhead kick that displayed technique befitting an attacking player.
Another bright spot for Deschamps was the form of Benoît Badiashile in a three-man defense and his Monaco teammate Youssouf Fofana in central midfield.
The left-footed Badiashile impressed with his passing out from the back while, Fofana won the ball effectively.
Olivier Giroud also staked a strong claim to be in the World Cup squad with a goal and assist against Austria. He’s on 49 international goals, just two behind Thierry Henry’s national record.
Giroud and Tchouaméni could have a big part to play in Qatar.