Berlin: Boxer Zeina Nassar’s fighting spirit has won her plenty of titles, but her battle to wear the hijab in the ring has also made her an equal opportunity champion.
Today, the 21-year-old, who discovered female boxing by watching online videos as a teenager, is a German amateur featherweight champion and dares to dream of Olympic glory. Her path so far took all the determination she could muster, Nassar told AFP, sipping an iced coffee at a cafe in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, where she grew up.
“It was as if I had to prove twice as much because not only am I a woman who boxes, but I also wear the headscarf,” she said, during a break between gruelling training sessions. “In the end it made me stronger,” she laughed, her made-up face known to countless Instagram fans framed by a pastel-coloured floral headscarf, sunglasses perched on top.
Next year’s Tokyo Olympics and then the Paris Games in 2024 “are my great dream, my great goal,” smiled the young woman.
That dream only came within reach in February, when the International Boxing Association (AIBA) amended its rules to allow Muslim boxers to wear a hijab and fully cover their bodies in the ring.
When it comes to qualifying, “now the prerequisites are the same for all,” said Nassar, who in training and in competition wears the head covering as well as a full-length top and leggings.
“Only sporting performance should count. We must not be reduced to our external appearance.”