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Saudi Arabia’s first female fight: Featherweight fighter wants to break the fence

After fleeing war in Somalia as a child, featherweight fighter Ramla Ali had to fight for all she had.

The 32-year-old is now set to write another chapter in her remarkable life as she prepares for her next match against Crystal Garcia Nova of the Dominican Republic in the first women’s match to be held in Saudi Arabia. Ut.

Taking place in Jeddah on Saturday, Ali’s fight under Oleksandr Usyk against Anthony Joshua as the “fight” for women’s rights has reached new heights in the kingdom.

“I’m proud to give my community and people hope and give African girls another reason to pursue sports and strive for whatever they want,” Ali told CNN Sport.

As a refugee, Ali is no stranger to breaking down barriers. She fled war-torn Somalia with her family and settled in the United Kingdom, dealing with the tragic death of her brother.

She told CNN in 2018, “The reason why we came here is because my oldest brother died in the war. He was hit by a grenade while playing outside the house. Apparently from there, my mother was my mother.” didn’t want that life for us.”

Having trouble fitting in at school, Ali is teased for her size, but it’s in her new home that she discovers the sport of boxing – just a hobby at first. , healthy to lose weight.

But her hobby soon blossomed into a passion.

Ali became a successful amateur boxer, winning titles like the 2016 Hero Championship.

Speaking of her achievement, she told CNN in 2018: “I went in there like a jerk… I was terrified when I saw the list. [with the other fighters] and in the end I beat them and rose to the top. “

She then went on to make history at Tokyo 2020, becoming the first Somali – male or female – to compete in boxing at the Olympics.

Now, a new barrier has been broken in Saudi Arabia, with the kingdom allowing women’s bouts to be broadcast publicly on the global stage for the first time through Matchroom Boxing.

Fear of washing sports

The war, however, did not come without its controversy. Many critics have accused Saudi Arabia of “cleansing” its image with events like this, in an attempt to deflect from its record of human rights abuses – such as newly empowered women. legal driving in June 2018.

The contest also comes less than a week after Saudi women’s rights campaigner Salma al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in prison for her activism on Twitter, according to court documents obtained by CNN. see.

Al-Shehab, 33, is also banned from leaving Saudi Arabia for another 34 years.

Ali, a devout Muslim who reflects on the simplicity of his attire as both an athlete and a model, believes the fight is still a moment of recognition and a step towards progress.

“I say positive change should be celebrated. Nothing is done overnight and many steps in the right direction are needed to ensure equality,” she told CNN.

“The West only has to look back over its own past 400 years to see what it has done to other nations, races and religions before it rushes to pass judgment.

“I appreciate that the region has to do much better, and I do not condone actions against women’s inequality, but I also believe in promoting greater inclusion and that is what I’m here for.”

Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal, said the war was another example of a “quantum jump” for women in the kingdom and confirmed attitudes were changing. .

“Our country is transforming and women and girls are playing an important role. For sport, that means inspiring them to lead happy and healthy lives. And, we are making real progress with the participation of women and girls increasing by 150% over the past few years,” he said in a written response to CNN.

“Ramla Ali is an incredible role model. I have no doubt that many young girls will watch her fight against Crystal Nova Garcia and be inspired. Not just in Saudi Arabia but around the world. world.”

‘A Story of Struggle and Perseverance’

Ali’s battle for representation in and out of the ring is underscored by the training she is receiving from Mexican-American boxing coach Manny Robles, based in Los Angeles.

Robles helped heavyweight Andy Ruiz break his own barrier by becoming the first Mexican to win the world heavyweight championship.

“Ramla is a pleasure to work with,” he told CNN Sport. “She has the dedication and discipline to succeed in the sport of boxing. Ramla has a story of struggle and perseverance.

“Everything she got, she earned. She gives women hope and reason to believe that anything you set your mind to be doable.”

The undefeated 32-year-old, with a 6-0 record, says she’s just getting started.

When she’s not in the ring, Ali is diving into the world of fashion or serving others as a UNICEF ambassador.

In 2018, Ali founded the Sisters Club – her own charity that provides a free weekly boxing class to women. It is considered a safe space where Muslim women can practice without fear of discrimination.

“I don’t give myself the freedom to sit back and look at all that I’ve achieved in my career because there’s so much work to be done both on and off the ring, but I’m proud of myself. getting this far and making sure I grab as many opportunities as possible along the way,” she said.

Whether it’s the ring, the runway or Mecca itself, Ali is defying traditional norms and breaking down ancient barriers to equality as an African woman, a woman. devout and passionate martial artist.

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