Monday, January 23, 2017

Iranian women back in the muaythai ring


Three Iranian women stepped over the ropes into a muaythai ring representing their country for the first time in over five years – holding true to their dreams and bringing home some bling even though they are not able to train with national coach.

Taking part in the IFMA World Cup in Kazan, Russia, the three along with a female referee and female government official, sat down with me (through an interpreter) to talk about women’s fighting in IR Iran. *

Masuomeh Tajir has been practicing muaythai for eight years, and won bronze at the IFMA World Championships in 2011.

She said: ‘For the last five or six years we were not allowed to fight in the ring so we could not compete in muaythai. So we kept ourselves busy with kickboxing. We could do light-contact, but mostly training.’

“I get a lot of confidence from muaythai. I feel powerful as a woman from doing it.”
Her teammate Fatemeh Yavari has been training for about five years and doing other martial arts too. She said at first muaythai was just a hobby and handball was her main sport. She also took part in Vovinam (a martial art from Vietnam).

Fatemeh said, smiling: “I took part in Vovinam contests, winning silver in France in 2013, but I was sometimes disqualified because I was a bit aggressive. That sport is very light-contact and the referees didn’t like my style.

“So this tournament is the first one we have trained fully in muaythai. We have been training all this time, we just couldn’t get in the ring.”  

She added: “My family said to me I should stop muaythai, they were worried I could get hurt but I can’t stop. I have too much passion for muaythai to stop doing it.”
And they need the passion, as the official international representative of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Homeira Ahmad Majd explained:

“We have female referees now, but no female coaches. When I see the standard at this tournament, I can see our girls need more support from our government. We have great male coaches, but our girls need a female coach so they can be trained properly.

“At the moment they train by themselves as it’s not appropriate to train with a male coach.”
Muslim fighters at IFMA events can wear this outfit including hijab, must be white
 Saeedah Ghafari has been training muaythai for three years, she told me:

“You know because I’m so tall, people tried to pressure me to do basketball or volleyball in Iran. But my passion was for muaythai. So I pushed myself to train hard.

“I couldn’t go to tournaments because I started exactly at the moment there a ban on competition in the rings. But when I sparred with girls who had that experience, I did well so I figured that I had potential and should keep going.”

Saeedah said she thinks girls doing sport in Iran need support from international groups like IFMA.

She said: “This will help the sport in our country as well. At the moment not many people know exactly what it is we are doing, but with more support from our muaythai family I know we can make it more popular.”

Referee Arezoo Maghdury wears the hijab while working in the ring as well as the normal referee uniform
The last woman on the sofa was Arezoo Maghdury who’s been a coach and referee for 24 years, first in Vovinam and kickboxing; and now a muaythai referee.

She said: “Last year the kickboxing championships was in Spain, and Iran sent me as a referee. It was the first time they sent a woman as a referee to international competition.

“We had problems at first about wearing a hijab while being in the ring. But when they saw I could do a good job they allowed me in the ring – we showed we could impress them!”

Arezoo said the key issue is sport should allow women to be seen. She said: “We are very skilled, we should be seen on the world stage. Sports should not limit our fighters or referees because we are wearing the hijab.”

Follow the IR Iran muaythai team on Instagram

Read more about IFMA’s work to promote women in muaythai.

*A version of this interview first appeared on the IFMA website.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Most popular blogposts on realgirlsport in 2016


How was your 2016? There are many tragic events to reflect upon but maybe that is why people are gravitating more and more towards inspiring sports stories. Are we looking for a ballast in a world gone mad, or looking for a spark of humanity in the mayhem?

Whatever it is you are loving women in sport more and more every year. Of course that makes cheating and doping even more devestating but it seems you are keeping the faith all the same.

Stats time: these are the posts and the sports women on this blog which you read the most in 2016:

5.  Climbing in Alaska with Ti Conkle  (an old interview but she's great I agree)

4.  Jujitsu brown belt Amanda English on BJJ and MMA and why she loves 'em

3.  Fight, retire, fight again Elaine McElligott on her Muaythai affair

2.  Jorina Barr - learning from the hard times.

1.  Fighting, singing and dancing her way to happiness - Shauna Nicole has big plans! 

Is your favourite post not here? Let me know in the comments ...

Friday, December 9, 2016

Teen muaythai champ Laura Linehan talks motivation and fighting

Laura Linehan muaythai fighter

Laura Linehan is just thirteen but she’s already helping out with teaching the junior class at her muaythai gym in Cork. She’s one of the new breed of Irish muaythai girls, competing at amateur events held in places like Waterford, Dublin and Cork.


And while she loves her mates and getting dolled up, Laura’s already developing a positive attitude to fighting. She said: “Our coach tells us it doesn’t matter if we win or lose, as long as we put on a great performance. He said to show off our skills and our training in the ring, and that’s what matters.”


The clinch is her favourite move, no wonder then she lists Iman Barlow as a hero. But holding the 43kgs Irish title has made her a role-model for even younger boxers.
 
Laura with the 43kgs belt Irish junior Open 2016

She said: “After the Irish Open Daragh and I went to the junior class, and gave them a speech on the set-up in Waterford, and the training we did before. It was a very exciting tournament.”

This week amateur muaythai gained provisional recognition under the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur (IFMA) by the Olympic movement. Yes, that means in a few years you could be tuning into a few rounds of muaythai during the Olympics!

If Laura chooses to stick with muaythai as she grows older, who knows what could happen?

She said: “Dad told me about the Olympics, I was very surprised. It’s really exciting, that is huge. I would love to fight for Ireland. I’d love to wear the green for Ireland when I’m older.”

She trains up to five sessions a week doing both Junior and Senior classes at Cobra Thai in Cork training with Derek O’Flynn, Eric O’ Leary and Sean Olden. She’s one of the youngest in the adult classes, along with her mate Daragh.

Inspired rather than intimidated by older fighters, she looks to people like Monica Engeset (Norway). She’s met Monica, and says: “I’ve met her twice in Dublin, she was here for the WAKO championships. She gave me a T-shirt and a Norwegian-coloured gum-shield. Now when I fight I wear the gum-shield for luck.

“I love watching Iman Barlow fight too. I’d go to YouTube and catch up on her recent fights. I try to copy what she does, I study what she’s going – she’s really good in the clinch.”

Laura meeting Christina McMahon in Mahon Shopping Centre of all places!

Laura recently met up with boxing star Christina McMahon, who of course had a title-winning reign as a kick-boxer before switching codes. She said: “Christina was giving me advice on training, she said to be confident and stay focused. Not to worry about what people say about your opponent, she was lovely.”

In the meantime, Laura’s making plans for 2017 including fighting on the bigger shows and showing off her skills with the big girls.

She said: “I’m hoping to get onto the Cobra show in April. I would fight whoever they like, I don’t mind who it is.”

Find out more about Cobra Thai 

All pics credit Instagram @Pat_Linehan
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