Teen Boxer to Finally Become First to Compete in Hijab

Amaiya Zafar
16-year-old Amaiya Zafar will be officially boxing in a hijab, after having been disqualified from a previous fight. (Photo: YouTube)

A teen boxer and devout Muslim will finally be allowed to wear her hijab in the ring, USA Boxing has announced. Sixteen-year-old Amaiya Zafar will debut tonight in an amateur bout in her native Minnesota.

Zafar earned the right to wear the religious garb in the ring after being disqualified from a fight last year. Since then, Zafar and others lobbied USA Boxing to amend their rules barring certain kinds of coverings.

“Why should I have to compromise the sport that I love? This is my life.” Zafar told WCCO. “I go to the gym every single day, why should I have to compromise that for my religion?”

USA Boxing originally cited safety risks for disallowing the hijab as well as any arm or leg coverings, with executive director Michael Martino saying it was “clearly a safety issue.”

“If you’re covering up arms, if you’re covering up legs, could there be preexisting injury?” Martino told MPR News at the time. “And then if someone got hurt during the event, the referee wouldn’t be able to see it.”

USA Boxing issued a statement this week saying they’ll be overturning some of the regulations in order to accommodate fighters like Zafar.

“USA Boxing is excited that our youth boxing programs attract stellar athletes from diverse walks of life, and we are in the process of amending our domestic competition rules specifically to accommodate the clothing and grooming mandates of our boxers’ religions,” said USA Boxing spokesperson Mike McAtee in a statement to CNN.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement praising USA Boxing for the move.

“We welcome this partial victory and look forward to the day when athletes of all faiths may compete nationally and internationally while maintaining their religious principles,” said CAIR national communications director Ibrahim Hooper in a statement.

CAIR was a vocal proponent of Zafar and others wishing to compete wearing religious attire. The International Boxing Association (AIBA) has yet to lift its ban on certain kinds of coverings for athletes. The AIBA is the governing body for Olympic boxing and would need to change its rules before fighters like Zafar could compete in the Olympics.

The change comes in the wake of other sports organizations, like FIFA and the International Weightlifting Federation, dropping bans against the hijab.

“You know, the battle is not given to the swift but to he who can endure it to the end,” Zafar told CNN. “At the end of the day, if I never get to compete but get the rule changed so other Muslim girls in the US can compete, then I have won.”

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