In November of 2016, Amaiya Zafar, a teenage boxer from Oakdale in Minnesota, was banned from competing in the Sugar Bert Boxing National Championships in Florida. However, officials didn’t disqualify Zafar for the usual run-of-the-mill behaviour like bad sportsmanship or punching a referee. They banned her for a uniform code violation.
The 16-year-old is a devout Muslim. Meaning, she trains in a hijab and leggings. While her story has made rounds (no pun intended) on the web, Mashable recently caught up with the teen, who confessed to to feeling confounded by the entire ordeal. She had no idea that her garb would factor so heavily into her budding career. After all, she’s an athlete, not a model or celebrity. “I was ready, like, in the zone...we didn’t get anybody saying that I wouldn’t be able to fight, we thought it would just happen...then they disqualified me, that was it,” she explained to Mashable.
This resulted in her opponent, Aliyah Charbonier, winning the coveted belt by way of disqualification. However, Charbonier felt the decision wasn’t right. She gave Zafar her belt.
“I’ve been training all this time, and I’ve never questioned why I’m doing it, I just do it…I’m training for someday when I fight, and if I don’t fight, it doesn't matter because I’m gonna get the next generation ready,” Zafar said.
Despite there being little to no leeway regarding uniforms in the boxing world, there has been an effort to normalise religious dress, in the world of sports. In the 2016 Olympics, Ibtihaj Muhammad, competed on the U.S. fencing team sporting a hijab. While this was a major feat, fencing uniforms cover the arms and face, so this may been an ideal sport to rally behind for change. Even Zafar’s father once asked her to consider fencing, instead of the headache of boxing. “I’ll box before I’ll fence,” she said last year.