The first two female boxers to compete on Saudi soil want to inspire young girls around the world to take up the gloves themselves, they told Al Arabiya English on Wednesday.
Already used to making history in a career that has taken her from becoming Somalia’s first boxer to compete at an Olympic Games, a British Vogue cover model and UNICEF Ambassador, Ramla Ali will mark another major first in Jeddah on Saturday
Ali will feature on the undercard of the Oleksandr Usyk versus Anthony Joshua fight in the first professional female bout to take place in Saudi Arabia.
She’ll face Crystal Garcia Nova of the Dominican Republic.
The event is not without controversy critics of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights record and the nation’s treatment of women in Saudi society have accused organisers of ‘sportswashing’.
Saudi Arabia has also launched a military operation in Yemen that has caused a humanitarian crisis, attracting further criticism.
However, Ali defended her decision to go ahead with the fight.
“It’s a huge honor,” Ali said on the sidelines of a press conference. “Myself and my opponent will be inspiring loads of young girls and loads of women, not only in this country, but all over the world.”
Speaking through an interpreter, Nova said she was “blessed” to be in Saudi Arabia and have the opportunity to take part in the first women’s boxing match in the Kingdom.
“It’s a message to all young women that boxing is not only for men, boxing is also for women. And I can go far. And if I can go far, everybody, all the women in the world can learn boxing and can go far and go up in this game.”
Authorities in the Kingdom have traditionally placed restrictions on women’s participation in sports.
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However, recent years have seen unprecedented progress in women’s rights, both in sports and in everyday life.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan spurred on development of sports in Saudi Arabia, allowing physical education to be taught to girls in school for the first time.
Major titles including the Formula One Grand Prix, the Saudi Cup horse race, and WWE professional wrestling events are among many to have been held in the Kingdom in recent years.
Heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk will defend his title against the man he won it from, Anthony Joshua, at Jeddah’s Superdome on Saturday.