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Boxer Shakiba Moghadam's fight for equality
SHE grew up in a country where she could have got into serious trouble and even arrested for her interest in sport.
And now in a victory for gender equality, she recently triumphed in one of the bravest sports in the world – boxing.
Despite being a hyper-active girl mad about sport, Shakiba was frustrated at the lack of opportunities available to her due to her gender.
So upon moving to England she tried every sport that she could possibly do, including rugby, hockey, basketball, surfing, long-boarding, skateboarding and kick-boxing.
Yet of all the sports she tried, it was boxing that most caught her attention when she was studying at the University Of Portsmouth, as her aggression caught the eye of her trainer, Wayne Kong-Gardiner, at Gym 01 ABC.
And last month she won her first amateur boxing match by way of technical knockout, after the opponent was deemed unable to defend herself by the referee.
But back in Iran, boxing is a sport deemed unfit for girls to participate in, due to the government’s insistence that girls only play feminine sports, which also meant that boys and girls were forbidden from training with each other.
Shakiba says: “We were always told not to play sports that were quite aggressive, by people around us at school.
“During PE sessions it was always very soft sports, like gymnastics and swimming. I was frustrated because I was being held back and I wanted to know why I was held back from it. I was always intrigued, wondering what was so special about manly sports that I couldn’t do.
“Moving to England I was overwhelmed at first, everything was so free. As a girl it was strange not wearing my headscarf. I was so interested in how I could do sports that I couldn’t before, so I went a bit mad and tried everything I could.
“The fact that sport was mixed was a huge difference, and competing against boys was a huge difference. It was also great not having to cover up when I did sport.
“Sport itself is like a language. My sister and I were the only ones who could talk to each other, so sport was our way of socialising with people.
“I trained four-to-five times a week at kickboxing, and boxing was the session before and after so I would always watch it.
“I really liked the people, the coach was serious and disciplined. Boys and girls were treated exactly the same. People were respected a lot more. I spar against boys all the time.”
What is remarkable about her choice of sport is that back in Iran, Shakiba could have even faced arrest for deciding to pursue her passion of boxing.
Elsewhere, Iranian-French tennis player, Aravane Rezai, has been banned from returning to Iran because the government disapprove of her choice of clothing when competing.
Shakiba’s mother, Farideh Moghadam, was also a sport-mad girl growing up in Tehran and worked as a personal training instructor, where she became aware of the government’s strict rules in sport.
Farideh says: “Sport is so risky in Iran for women, any minute the government could arrest you and take you somewhere if you are playing sport in the wrong way.
It’s a very bad penalty if you’re seen swimming in a mixed swimming pool, it’s part of the law, they could take you to prison if you are caught.
“I was a personal trainer and any sport that was not womanly was not approved by the government. For example in swimming, you’re not allowed to swim in front of a man.
“The government will do whatever they can to prevent girls from doing what they want if it is against Islam rule.”
It is the discrimination in her native Iran that drives Shakiba to make full use of the opportunities presented to her.
She is also heavily inspired by Maryam Tousi, the Iranian sprinter and record holder for the 100, 200 and 400 metre races, as well as Jane Crouch, the first ever officially licensed British female boxer.
Shakiba says: “My motivation is all about making the most of this opportunity. When I’m in the gym, I think about how girls back in Iran don't have this opportunity because the circumstances are so difficult.
“I was so nervous before the fight, and my mum kept on saying 'watch your nose, watch your nose’. I didn't even know why the ref had stopped the fight. The whole time I was waiting to get hit really hard!
“I just love testing myself against somebody else. People think I do boxing because I want to beat people up, but that's the last reason I box.”
She plans on continuing to box when she returns from university, and is keeping her eyes open for any other sports that she can try.
Her proud parents admit that they are nervous to see their daughter in the ring, but are immensely proud of her for pursuing her passion despite growing up in an environment that discouraged her from playing the sports she wanted to.
Farideh says: “Last time I watched her I was very proud of her. She’s a very active and intelligent girl and I’m proud of her because she's different and thinks beyond her years. I'm so lucky to have Shakiba and Shokenrah as daughters – she takes part in sport as well.
“Shakiba represents equality for women around the world, because it’s not just Iran, there are lots of countries where women are in a difficult position and they don’t have freedom.
She represents freedom as an Iranian girl, she is doing what she really loves.”
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