Afghan woman’s Olympic dream in doubt


The female Afghan boxer who has drawn wide attention for her bid to reach the London Olympics could be denied because of fears over her safety inside the ring.
Flyweight Sadaf Rahimi, 18, suffered a setback at last week’s women’s world championships in China, where her bout against Poland’s world number six Sandra Drabik was stopped after just 1min 26sec.
Rahimi is relying on a wildcard from organisers to reach London, but officials said safety was paramount as they decide which fighters will take part when women’s boxing becomes an Olympic event for the first time.
“Safety is the number one concern in women’s boxing and we will make this clear to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) Tripartite Commission when we meet in early July to decide who shall benefit from the wildcards,” said International Boxing Association (AIBA) president Wu Chingkuo.
Rahimi has been seen as an automatic choice for a wildcard after media seized upon her quest to represent Afghanistan, where women’s sport was banned under the Taliban regime which was toppled in late 2001.
But she now faces an anxious wait after the gulf in standards between her war-torn nation and the boxing heartlands of the Americas, Europe and Asia was exposed at China’s Qinhuangdao.
“My bout here was hard and my opponent very good. Of course it is my dream to go to the Olympics and fight for my country but I will wait and see what the organizers decide,” Rahimi told AFP.
“I will be sad if I don’t go but just coming here has been a great experience.”
Sadaf, who has been on a training stint in Britain, was cheered by a small crowd of hijab-wearing women in Qinhuangdao. Her compatriots Sumaiya Azizi, 18, and Shamila Husainzada, 17, also had their fights stopped in the first round.
“Of course there is a big difference between us and the other boxers. But to come and see the WWBC (Women’s World Boxing Championships) has motivated us even more to do well,” said Sadaf.
“Just being here flying the Afghan flag for other Afghan women is also positive.”
The Afghan women fight with small veils under their headgear and wear tights and long sleeves to cover their limbs, in accordance with Muslim tradition.
Sadaf’s coach Hedayatullah Mohmand, secretary general of the Afghanistan Boxing Federation, said just appearing at the world championships was a milestone for the boxers.
“It is the first time Sumaiya Azizi and Samila Husainzada have seen and fought in a professionally rigged ring. It’s been an important experience for them. Now we know what the technical level is,” he said.
AIBA president Wu said the Afghans and other women boxers from emerging regions, such as Africa, will be offered more intensive training sessions in the future to bring them up to the international standard.
Top women boxers such as Ireland’s Katie Taylor have criticised the wildcard system, intended to favour fighters from developing countries, and said the best athletes should be chosen for the Olympics.