Fight like a girl!

November 27 - December 3, 2019

Gulf Weekly Naman Arora
By Naman Arora

Gulf Weekly Fight like a girl!

The seventh edition of the charity white-collar event Fight Night, organised by Lift Bahrain, attracted boxers and lovers of the sport from across the region, as for the first time ever, the night featured interclub fights between Bahraini and Saudi clubs.

Amongst the highlights was the visit of the Fight Like A Girl (FLAG) women’s boxing club from Saudi Arabia. The FLAG team comprised of three women – Zahra Alqurashi, Ragad Al Naimi and Hadeel Ashour.

FLAG Boxing, which was opened three years ago by Halah AlHamrani, trains women in combat sports.

AlHamrani who studied Environmental Science in San Diego, USA, started teaching Muay Thai out of her parents’ house when she got back from the US 13 years ago.

AlHamrani said: “It’s the first combat gym exclusively for women in Saudi. Doing something like this in a very male-dominated sport in a society with male-dominated thinking, there has been some pushback, especially on social media.

“But to be honest, a lot of what I get is support. Seventy per cent of the country’s population is 30 and below. So a lot of them are exposed to the West and come with a new mindset. We get a lot of support from them. In fact, a lot of times, we are held up as an example of women empowerment in the country.”

The Saudi girls, dressed in blue, had a variety of experience. Alqurashi competed in Jordan earlier this year, winning her first-out-of-country bout. Watching her reminded me of the Muhammad Ali quote about floating and stinging, as she outmaneuvered her opponent, Sarah Nass.

Unfortunately, the fight did not have a very sportsmanlike conclusion, with her opponent storming off, but that’s to be expected in a sport where emotions can often run high. Alqurashi was declared the winner of the bout. Al Naimi and Ashour were boxing for the first time in a competition and unfortunately lost their bouts to Renad Khalid and Maddie Harrison-Mirfield.

However, the FLAG team’s coach, Grethe Krugerud, beamed with pride when asked about their performance, saying: “I am really proud of how far Zahra has come. She joined around the time I started my role at FLAG, almost 20 months ago. She started with kick boxing, but she was not much of a kicker. She has had a few rough moments. The last fight she was in, she got knocked out.

“But despite my reservations, this fight, she won the mental game first and foremost, and the physical game followed. And I am just as impressed by Renad and Hadeel, who both learned so much, despite not winning. After all, they are coming with mere months of training to fight against those who have years. For them, even being exposed to this level of fighting talent and skill, was a victory.”

Krugerud joined AlHamrani nearly 20 months ago, when she was planning on organising a combat workshop in Saudi and since then the two have worked tirelessly to improve the women’s boxing scene.

While boxing clubs are now becoming much more prevalent in Saudi, women’s boxing is still restricted to clubs. There are no inter-club fights and few high-level coaches, according to AlHamrani.

The FLAG team has travelled to Jordan and fought nationally in the Saudi Kickboxing competition, before coming to Bahrain for Fight Night 7.

When asked what could be done to enhance the scene, AlHamrani was quick to respond, “The Boxing and Wrestling Federation should bring in more coaches and support clubs to host more inter-clubs fight. It’s also very common to have girls in Saudi Arabia who have had no physical education training before joining. By overcoming this challenge, and getting more professional level coaches, I could see the scene really taking off.”

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