She Fled Somalia’s Devastating Civil War. Now She Wants To Be Its First Ever Olympic Boxer

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It’s the second day of Ramadan, and Ramla Ali is wrapping her hands at a boxing gym in London’s East End. It’s now midafternoon, and as a practicing Muslim, Ali hasn’t had any food or drink since before dawn. “I’m still training,” the featherweight says as she gets ready for a workout. “Which is obviously really hard.”

The first Muslim woman to win an English boxing title, Ali has her sights set on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. There, should she qualify, she will become the first boxer of any gender to represent her country of birth, Somalia, which sent only two athletes to the 2016 Rio Games.

Her path here hasn’t been easy. When she was a child during the Somali civil war in the early 1990s, her family fled their Mogadishu home after her older brother was killed by a stray grenade. They escaped the country via a perilous boat journey to Kenya, and eventually ended up in London.

At school, Ali was bullied for being overweight, until she discovered boxing in her teens. Even after she started fighting competitively, she hid her passion from her family, worried her mother would think it was immodest. “I knew she would never be supportive,” Ali says. The day she won the English title in 2016, she told her family she was going for a run.

As Ali’s profile increased, her mother eventually found out and asked her to stop—which she did, if only temporarily. “I understood, because she grew up in a different era to me,” Ali says. “But there was resentment at the same time. How can you not understand that this is what I love?”

Eighteen months ago, an uncle in Mogadishu eventually helped reassure Ali’s mother that the community was happy, not ashamed. By then, Ali had made the decision to represent Somalia, rather than the U.K., at the international level. “He called me up and told me he was really proud of me,” she says. “I’d never had a senior family member say that.”

Now, Ali’s mother is her biggest fan, though she has still never been to see her fight in person. That might soon change. In May, after Ali returned from a tournament in Botswana, her mother made her a promise. “She said, ‘If you get to Tokyo, I’ll book my ticket and I’ll see you there.’”

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When she’s not traveling around the world for competitions, Ali runs free weekly self-defense classes for women in South London. The sessions are particularly popular with Muslim women who want to learn to protect themselves in a women-friendly environment.

As a refugee whose adoptive country gave her so many opportunities, Ali is equally aware that African boxers who train in their home nations aren’t adequately represented at the top flight of boxing. That’s why she’s raising funds to bring the Botswana boxing team, who welcomed her on her recent trip, to the U.K. for a week of training ahead of the All Africa Games. “The thing that sets them apart from other countries is not their skill,” she says. “It’s just the fact that they don’t have the same opportunities.”

Ali hopes others will be inspired not to give up on sports. “Don’t be deterred just because someone told you it’s not what a girl should do,” she says. “Just do what makes you happy.”

 

May 16, 2019

Somalia Closer To Finals Of African Boxing Championship

Somalia is one step closer to the finals of the African Boxing Championship zone 3 which is currently under way in Libreville, the capital of Gabon.

Somalian boxers Rashid Omar, 64kg and Adan Mohamed 75kg are now through to the semi-finals of the competition after beating their rivals from Burundi and Algeria in big fights on Monday.

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Somali Boxing Federation, General Secretary Abdirahman Ali Mire, who is accompanying the team said that the Somali flag carriers are now preparing for their semi-final clashes schedule for Wednesday 15th of May.

Rashid Omar who competes for Somalia will fight his Cameroonian counterpart, Mengue Ayissi, while Adan Mohamed (Somalia) will take on Ndayize Jean (Burundi)

“Somali Boxing returned to the world platform only early last year after decades of absence and in this war-weary nation, we are still financially unstable,” he adds “thanks to the National Olympic Committee of Somalia for its commitment to the game” Somali Boxing Federation, General Secretary Abdirahman Ali Mire.

The boxing sport was axed in Somalia in 1976 when the then dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre banned the game and named it “unwanted” sport after a fighter was knocked down and vomited during a game.

That was the first boxing competition in more than three decades, with young fighters in the conflict-torn nation dreaming of a career in international rings.

In 1991 when war broke out in the country’s capital, Mogadishu all sorts of sports were suspended and athletics fled the country escaping endless fight. Until today many Somali athletes compete internationally for adopted nations.

In September 2018, Somalia hold its first boxing competition since 1991 with with young fighters in the capital.