Sunday May 23 2021
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British-Pakistani boxing coach named 'Hometown Hero' for Commonwealth Games

BIRMINGHAM: British-Pakistani woman Haseeba Abdullah is England’s first hijab-wearing boxing coach and has now been named as a “Hometown Hero” for the Commonwealth Games taking place next year in Birmingham.

Haseeba, who has been described as an incredible ambassador for women's sport, coaches at Windmill Boxing Gym in Smethwick.

Speaking to Geo News, Haseeba said that she developed a passion for boxing at a very young age which was for her, at the time, just an after school activity.

“A lot of families don’t really approve of women in sports but things are changing. There is now a broadening of minds in our community and people are realising that this is beneficial for women and not a negative thing.”

But for Haseeba, whose parents are originally from Gujarat, Pakistan, it was different. She had the full support of her family.

“My family is my biggest supporter. My parents are very, very supportive of me. My brothers, who I actually coach alongside, are an amazing team,” said Haseeba.

There was a time when she really wanted to compete and progress in the sport but she was forced not to do so — the reason being her wearing the hijab. At that time, for women to wear a hijab wasn’t allowed by the boxing associations. Coming from a traditional Muslim, Pakistani family, she couldn’t wear the boxing kit either.

”That was the biggest barrier to getting involved in boxing for young women of Pakistani and other South Asian communities prior to the changes.”

The rules about the boxing dress code were changed by International Boxing Association (AIBA), in 2019.

“Now we can wear full sleeves and cover our legs and even wear the hijab, if necessary. That’s an amazing change for women,” said Haseeba.

But by that time. she had decided to move on. As she was earlier unable to compete in the sport she loved so much, she decided to coach other women and keep on pushing the authorities for changes in uniform.

According to the Birmingham Commonwealth Games page that recognises her contribution along with those of other community leaders, she has played a huge role in making the sport more inclusive. She helped change official dress code rules to allow women to wear a headscarf and full-length clothing when training or competing so all the other girls can enjoy the sport more than she did.

“I sat down, put all my work together, did my research and sent a study to prove that wearing a hijab or being covered in any way didn’t effect your athletic ability and so we need to widen the ruling on clothing to engage more women,” she said.

Switching to coaching was a natural transition to stay in the game as I couldn’t compete at that time because the rules hadn’t changed yet, Haseeba added.

She is overwhelmed at being named a "Hometown Hero" and feels excited seeing her pictures everywhere and with "all the uncles and aunties calling her".

“The community voted for me so that shows it’s not just my passion now. I’m appreciated by the whole community which is really, really nice to have,” Haseeba said.

She said that with the Commonwealth Games, more girls from Birmingham will be encouraged to get involved as it’s happening in their hometown and will be amazing opportunity for them to watch and to volunteer.

After becoming one of the faces representing her community at the Commonwealth Games, Haseeba is focused on getting the best out of them. She has inspired many girls and now more people are seeing that women have a place in boxing.

“Other boxing clubs and fellow boxing coaches are also trying to create women-only spaces for their local areas. So boxing is definitely on the rise,” she said.