The young boxing coach, Haseebah Abdullah, who’s changing the lives of budding young female boxers has been crowned a Hometown Hero by Birmingham 2022
With five brothers and two sisters, Haseebah was used to a bit of rough and tumble at home. And having watched her brothers train at Windmill Gym for years, stepping into the ring aged 11 seemed natural. At that time, she was the only girl in the gym which didn’t matter as she felt at home. But for lots of girls, particularly those wearing a headscarf, a boxing gym wasn’t – and still isn’t – an option.
Haseebah who is now a coach – the first hijab-wearing coach in England – is on a mission to affect change and she doesn’t just talk the talk. Civil servant by day, boxing coach by night, Haseebah has been coaching since she was 23-years-old and is a tour de force, taking the fight for inclusivity to the boxing authorities. She has forced rule changes that allow girls to wear head scarves, leggings and sleeves which makes a huge difference to the opportunities for ethnic minorities.
CHANGING THE RULES
Her own boxing career was stunted because of the head scarf rule, so having changed that for girls coming through the system is massive. She says: “No one was representing us and there was such a lack of knowledge. I put forward a study to the head of England Boxing linking dress code to participation levels and highlighting the fact that covering up doesn’t affect athletic performance.”
She was successful and the rules were changed. Haseebah recalls: “The nicest thing recently was seeing girls competing in full leggings and sleeves. It’s amazing.” Female coaching numbers and diversity at the gym have grown thanks to Haseebah. There are now four classes with 32 girls. “It’s a really nice mix,” says Haseebah. “I was the only Asian girl in the gym initially but now there are Polish, Pakistani and Albanian. It’s a real celebration of cultures.”
Haseebah has five carded fighters which means they have a licence to box competitively which is a big deal. Her contribution and commitment is seriously inspiring and one of the reasons she’s been named one of Birmingham 2022’s Hometown Heroes.
“I had no idea I’d been nominated. It was a huge surprise to me,” she says. “I didn’t tell my friends and family I’d been nominated until I got the nod I’d been chosen.” You may have seen her face on a mural by Brum’s own Gent48 on Navigation Street which is quite surreal for Haseebah. “I keep doing a double take!” she adds.
Of the Commonwealth Games, Haseebah thinks they are a huge opportunity for the people of the city to come together. “It’s such a diverse city with so much talent and so much to celebrate. The opportunities aren’t just sporting, but it’s about job creation too in areas in the arts and creative industry too. It’ll be truly inclusive.”