JEDDAH — Ramla Ali put on a boxing session with young girls in Saudi Arabia on Thursday ahead of her history-making bout against Crystal Nova Garcia at the Rage on the Red Sea this Saturday.
Ali is used to making history having become England's first Muslim fighter to claim an amateur title in the country and she will etch her name into the record books alongside her opponent as they become the first females to fight professionally in Saudi Arabia.
The country is harnessing sport as a tool for transformation and, since Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. headlined the Clash of the Dunes in 2019 in the Kingdom, there has been a 150 percent uptake in female sports participation.
Boxing as a whole has seen a 300 percent jump in Saudis taking up the sport and the Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation is aiming to get 500,000 people inspired by boxing over the next four years.
The increased interest in the sport and matching ambition of the governing body was evidenced at Jeddah's Waad Academy, where Ali conducted a 45-minute workout with local coaches and Saudi girls and 15 to 30-years-old women who represented government-funded and private clubs across the country.
“The organizers inviting myself to compete and allowing this fight to go ahead really shows you the cultural shift in the landscape that is happening in the region. I hope myself and my opponent, as well as the full card, competing in Saudi Arabia inspires future generations. It’s been wonderful to spend time with this group of girls today and I hope they truly believe their ambition is limitless.”
Alongside Ali was Rasha Al Khamis, the country's first certified female boxer and boxing coach, as well as a part-time footballer, Guinness World Record-holder and who currently serves as vice-president of the Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation.
Al Khamis herself has inspired women from all over the country and is hoping that Ali's presence both at Waad Academy and at the Rage on the Red Sea will lead to even more of her countrywomen to give boxing a go — or any other sport for that matter.
“Training programs are very important, not only for the athletes but to develop coaches and referees; the more we have the more competitions can be organized, which helps to identify promising talent,” Rasha said.
“We are constantly in the process of providing more training and increasing the number of competitions nationally and regionally, as well as looking into more programs that pave the way for future athletes.
“It’s so exciting to see the growing interest in the sport, especially following some of the incredible boxing spectacles we have like this week’s Rage on the Red Sea.”
The Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation's president, Abdullah Al Harbi, and CEO Amr Abdel Binhassan also oversaw the clinic, alongside Matchroom Sport chairman, Eddie Hearn.
Rage on the Red Sea takes place at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in Jeddah on Saturday, with Joshua's bid to recapture his Heavyweight world title from Oleksandr Usyk at the top of the billing.
As well as Ali versus Nova Garcia delivering a first for boxing in Saudi Arabia, local boxer Ziyad Almaayouf will become the first professional fighter from his country to feature on a major international card.
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