GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Dozens of young Gazans dream of becoming professional boxers and competing in international boxing championships. However, the single boxing ring in Gaza cannot help these youth make their dreams come true.
There is a severe shortage of boxing equipment and capabilities in Gaza, which has forced boxers to take turns using accessories, such as bag gloves, punching bags and even mouthguards.
Boxing is one of the oldest sports in the Palestinian territories — the Palestinian Boxing Federation was established in 1936. Yet the 1948 Palestinian exodus and the 1967 Israeli occupation, along with the subsequent wars, have prevented the youth from having interest in this sport and prompted them to focus on confronting the occupation, said Ali Abdel-Shafi, deputy head of the Palestinian Boxing Federation.
The Palestinian Sports Federation has been trying to revive this sport through local championships. These attempts, however, have faced huge obstacles. Abdel-Shafi told Al-Monitor, "There is only one boxing ring in Gaza, and there are no boxing clubs. This sport is done in sports clubs prioritizing activities such as football or basketball, which prevents us from identifying and developing talent." He noted that there are only 60 boxers and 10 coaches in Gaza.
The Palestinian Boxing Federation in Gaza organized the Muhammad Ali local championship in August, where 47 amateur boxers took part. Its objective was to grab the attention of youth and encourage them to pursue and develop this sport.
Abdul Rahman al-Khalidi, 27, who won first place for the middleweight 75 kilograms (165 pounds), told Al-Monitor that he started his journey seven years ago, although the lack of capabilities prevented any boxer from developing his skills to compete with boxers from outside the Gaza Strip.
Khalidi aspires to be regarded as a big name in the world of boxing and to fight international boxers. Yet the closure of the Rafah crossing is the most prominent obstacle to achieving his ambition.
Khalidi said, "Why are sports not distanced from political harassments? Why is the Rafah crossing closed to Palestinian athletes who aspire to acquire external expertise or to have the chance to participate in international championships? This is unfair."
In October 2014, Ahmed Harara, a Palestinian boxer from Gaza, took part in the King Mohammed VI championship in Morocco and secured a bronze medal after he defeated Yemeni boxer Abdul Rahman al-Husseini. This championship was the last in which boxers from Gaza took part, due to tight policies at the Rafah crossing.
Ayman Wadi, a boxing coach at al-Nasr al-Arabi club, which has the only boxing ring in Gaza, said that amateur boxers have big dreams, but are prevented from traveling abroad, which is extremely frustrating for them.
Wadi told Al-Monitor, "These young Gazans' dream of becoming international boxers is too great to be achieved in local clubs in the Gaza Strip. These clubs cannot give these young men a thing, because there is no good sponsorship for this sport here. This is why these youth seek to leave the Gaza Strip to develop their skills and acquire new expertise."
He explained that many young boxers are being trained at local clubs and already have jobs that require great physical effort to provide for their families, as boxing cannot be a source of income. This is because boxers are not paid, which, he added, is an additional obstacle to the development of the sport.
He noted that local clubs are trying to build different alternatives in order to overcome the lack of sporting equipment and capabilities, such as a building a boxing ring, although the ropes used do not meet specifications.
Wadi refuses to give in to obstacles. He said, "The obstacles cannot obstruct the ambitions and dreams. A few years ago, there were no bag gloves in Gaza and the boxer used socks or [canvas] bags filled with sand instead, for training. We are trying to promote the idea of not using the lack of capabilities as an excuse to trample on their ambitions."
For Abdel-Shafi, there are several factors behind the lack of capabilities for the development of the sport. The most notable one is that the Palestine Olympic Committee does not allocate a budget to the Palestinian Boxing Federation.
Abdel-Shafi said, "The Federation is making efforts for the advancement of this sport through donations by individuals. Had a sum of $10,000 only been available, the reality of this sport would have been much better, but it is not available."
On Oct. 10, the Palestine Olympic Committee held a local workshop at the Arab American University in Ramallah to develop a strategy for the development of Palestinian sports, under the patronage of Jibril Rajoub, the chairman of the Palestine Olympic Committee. The recommendations included highlighting individual sports, such as boxing, in order to promote the culture of sports in Palestinian society.
According to Abdel-Shafi, the Palestinian Boxing Federation prepared an objective study to establish a martial arts academy with full equipment, but the study has been suspended, waiting to be officially adopted by the Palestine Olympic Committee.
Dreams of turning pro remain suspended for Gaza’s boxers, at least until the policy of closing the Rafah border is loosened and the necessary equipment becomes available.
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