Female boxer strikes a blow for sportsmanship

Amaiya Zafar, 16, a devout Muslim from Oakdale, Minn., was disqualified before she had a chance to fight for the championship at the Sugar Bert Boxing National Championships in Kissimmee, Fla., the Washington Post reports.

She wears a hijab underneath her protective headgear when she boxes and rules are rules.

And sportsmanship is sportsmanship as Aliyah Charbonier proved to the rule makers.

This girl comes up to me then and puts her belt in my lap and says, ‘This is yours. They disqualified you. You’re the true winner. This is unfair,’ ” Zafar recalled over the phone Tuesday morning. “Then we started hugging each other, and the owner [of the event] came and got me to make sure I got [a belt.]”

Charbonier said she felt she needed to do something.

“It’s just not right,” the 15-year-old from Clermont, Fla., said. “It’s not really a distraction for me what she’s wearing. She still had on gloves and headgear. I felt really bad for her. They didn’t give her a chance to fight. We tried to tell them that it was all right, but for safety purposes they say they need to have a visual of your arms. And yet they still have 18-year-olds fighting 20-somethings. It wasn’t right.”

MPR’s Laura Yuen told Amaiya Zafar’s story in September 2015.

She taught herself to box by watching videos and then practicing in a garage.

“Boxing is really important to me, but so is practicing my religion. And I don’t want to compromise one for the other. I want to be able to practice my religion to the full extent and to participate in my sport. Taking off my hijab isn’t an option for me.”

Charbonier also took up the sport just a couple of years ago.

But the kind of sportsmanship she showed the other night? That’s the sort of thing you learn from an earlier age.

“It’s already hard for females to fight, and I don’t know if or when she’ll be able to do it again,” she told the Post.

  • John

    I’ll preface this by reminding everyone that every league/group/sport has their own set of rules.

    I referee swim meets for the YMCA. We follow the guidelines set forth by USA swimming (mostly – there are a couple areas in that rule set where the Y goes a bit farther in terms of safety requirements), USA Simming, in turn, mostly follows the Olympic rules.

    We have what I call a “reasonable accommodation” guideline. That is, if a swimmer has some reason to request a deviation from a rule, we attempt to accommodate. Typically, these are things like swimmer A has an insulin pump that will be strapped to their suit, swimmer B has a knee injury and needs to do an in water start rather than coming off the blocks, swimmer C wears a certain suit for religious reasons (or hypothetically wears a necklace or something that wouldn’t normally be allowed). We accommodate. I should say, we accommodate as long as there’s no competitive advantage granted to the swimmer. I don’t know how other referees handle it, but I also make sure the coaches of all the teams are aware of my decision so there are no surprises that will upset them in the heat of competition.

    I don’t know much about boxing, but I don’t see any competitive or safety advantage going to the boxer from Oakdale. In my pool, I would have allowed her to wear her hijab.

    • DavidG

      I don’t read it as the Boxing organizations saying a safety advantage, rather a safety risk because the officials would be unable to see a potential injury she might suffer during a bout.

      Just a small amount of creativity should be able to come up with an acceptable accommodation, because from the pictures, there really isn’t that much more covered than any other competitor. The regulation head gear covers as much as her head scarf (except possibly the neck), so that leaves the arms and legs…

      • John

        I didn’t write that as I meant it to read. I meant a competitive advantage, or a safety issue.

        If having her arms/legs covered makes it impossible to judge effectively whether a competitor is hurt, then I would definitely not allow it – it’s no longer reasonable accommodation in my mind – it’s now an issue of safety, and personally, I would not allow it. As I said, though, I’m not a boxing judge, and don’t know what the right call is.

  • BJ

    I think there probably could have been some accommodation.

    But I wonder if the rule book should have been read before the competition started.

    Also that Aliyah Charbonier is a great person. Yeah for great people!!

  • Angry Jonny

    Oh, those millennials. So rude and entitled and…wha?

  • crystals

    Kids these days (give me some hope).

  • LilAsil

    She made it to the championship bout, one would think that whatever accommodations were found for the previous bouts would have been able to be prescribed for the final. I call shenanigans.