When a boxer is disqualified because of her hijab, her opponent takes a stand
On Sunday, 16-year-old Amaiya Zafar was getting ready to fight in the Sugar Bert Boxing National Championships in Kissimmee, Florida, when officials called off the fight and declared her opponent, Aliyah Charbonier, the winner. Their reason? Zafar, who is Muslim, was going to fight while wearing a hijab, a long-sleeved shirt, and leggings under her headgear and uniform. Her faith requires her to be fully covered, but according to USA Boxing, her clothes violate the sport’s dress code.
Zafar’s opponent, Aliyah Charbonier, was declared the winner by default and presented with a belt. But rather than saying, “Well, them’s the rules,” taking the win and going home, Charbonier decided to take a stand. Zafar described what happened next to the Washington Post: “This girl comes up to me then and puts her belt in my lap and says, ‘This is yours. They disqualified you. You’re the true winner. This is unfair.’ Then we started hugging each other, and the owner [of the event] came and got me to make sure I got [a belt.]”
That’s pretty kick-ass. And yes, that pun is totally intended.
— MEND Community (@mendcommunity) November 23, 2016
Zafar fell in love with boxing at the age of 13. Though her father tried to convince her to take up fencing instead, Zafar insisted on boxing and was soon sparring with the boys at her gym and joining a team. Finding people to fight with has been a struggle for Zafar for a few reasons: first, there’s the fact that she’s a girl; second, at 5’0″ and around 114 pounds, it’s hard to find an opponent her size; and third, there’s the dress code issue.
According to the rules of the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA), fighters are not allowed to cover their heads, arms, or legs below the knee. This means that elite athletes are being forced to choose between their faith and the sport they love, and that’s ridiculous. And this isn’t the only dress-based controversy coming from the AIBA recently, either — in 2012 they faced enormous backlash after suggesting that female boxers in the Olympics wear skirts during their bouts. They later changed it so that athletes could choose between a skirt or shorts.
No, for serious.
USA Boxing executive director Michael Martino told MPR News last year that the uniform requirements were made for “safety reasons,” for example, preventing boxers from concealing pre-existing injuries or injuries that occur during the fight. Martino is also concerned that allowing hijabs would set a precedent that would be difficult to follow: “We have 30,000 amateur boxers in the United States,” Martino said. “So if you make allowances for one religious group, what if another comes in and says we have a different type of uniform we have to wear? You have to draw a line some place.”
— JaipurWomenBlog.org (@womenofjaipur) December 18, 2015
So while we wait for the AIBA and other sports to get their rears in gear and catch up with the times, at least we have athletes like Zafar who are going to keep trying, and competitors like Charbonier who will stand up for them. Even the CEO of the competition the girls were scheduled to fight in is on their side — Bert Wells of Sugar Bert Boxing Promotions told the Washington Post that he hopes Zafar will be able to come back and fight in the future. “Boxing is diverse,” he said. “It’s open to athletes from all countries and cultures. We’d welcome her back.”
But it’s Zafar’s father who best sums up why his daughter should be allowed to fight in her hijab: “As a parent, person of faith and a person who admires integrity, determination, and fight, as a father I am bursting with joy to see my daughter so strong in her quest to be the best in her faith and in life. She has a competitive endeavor that flows through her actions and produces the most powerful and the most positive energy that is felt by those who know her. She gets respect by her actions and demands her place in a world through resiliency. She holds on to the rope of honor and gives back 110 percent to those she mentors. She lives by example and breathes by determination. This is my daughter Amaiya Zafar and I am her father.”