NO ONE expected the Olympic Games to be postponed by a year. It’s hard enough for boxers on well-funded national programmes to have all their plans for 2020 thrown out. But it’s even harder for the Olympic hopefuls from smaller boxing nations.
Earlier this year Ramla Ali became the first female boxer to compete for Somalia in an Olympic qualification event. Considering the Games postponement, she tells Boxing News, “I understand the decision is obviously right. It’s very much the right thing to do, purely because nobody has access to training. Even if things were to get better, let’s say next month, nobody has been able to train properly. It would be irresponsible to let it go ahead. People would be getting injured, definitely the right thing to do for sure.”
But she adds, “You don’t know when this virus will die down. People have been saying it will get better but it just seems to be getting worse. You actually don’t know when it will happen, even if it will happen at all. But I have faith that it will happen and I’ll obviously try and qualify once the qualifiers come back. But it’s just gutting that all this money was spent over the last four years and it’s got to be another year of spending more money basically.”
Ramla has to fund her training camps, as well as competing internationally and so forth, herself. “I’m lucky I have such good sponsors,” she said. “Anything that’s been coming in from that, literally goes straight back out.
“Most people who are on funded programmes, they can spend all their sponsorship money on themselves. I don’t have that luxury of spending it on myself. It goes straight back out on competitions and training and camps.”
“It is hard but in a way it sort of prepares you for that professional life when you turn pro. Because when you turn pro everything comes out of your own pocket. If you’ve been used to being on a funded programme for so long you might find it hard,” she added. “I’m now used to it. The transition won’t be that hard.”
Interestingly there is new ruling that allows professional boxers enter Olympic qualification events, if they’re selected by their nation. That is an option Ramla will consider to keep her Olympic dream alive. She explained, “I know there are a few developing countries around the world who have asked some pro athletes to try and qualify for the Olympics. Because they just don’t have enough boxers to enter. They don’t have the money to send boxers. These pros will come back and use the money that they’ve made to try to qualify for the Olympics. So it is good.”
“I spent nearly all my money over the last four years for boxing, now Tokyo’s going to happen next year. All the experience I’ve gained internationally over the last four years, I’ll put it to use, turning pro or something,” Ali continued. “Once it comes round again and the qualifiers come back again, I’ll try to go to the qualifiers. But until then I want to stay active and probably try and turn pro.
“I plan on having a pro debut. If shows are allowed to go on, I plan on having a pro debut later on this year.”
After taking a loss in the quarter-finals of her continental qualification event, she had been focusing on the World qualifier, originally scheduled for May in France. While the Olympics eventually were reset for July 2021, everyone is still waiting to find out when and how the qualifiers will be rescheduled.
“They cancelled the American qualifiers [in March] which were meant to be just before the World qualifier and they hadn’t cancelled the World qualifier so I thought oh my god what is going to happen. Nobody knew. There was so much uncertainty nobody knew what was happening. So we had to continue training as if everything was going ahead. But it was quite hard because at the same time the European qualifiers were taking place and it was quite hard to find very good sparring because anybody that was worth sparring was at the European qualifier. So we still had to train as if we were going to the World qualifier but we couldn’t find any sparring which was really hard,” Ali said. “So stressful. So, so stressful. At the same time there was all of this going on. All of my money that I use for boxing I make from modelling on the side. At the same time all of these shoots were getting cancelled. Everything was getting cancelled. We just thought oh my god how are we going to pay for this. Honestly we didn’t know how we were going to pay for it.”
Her result at the African qualification event in Dakar was frustrating but also promising nevertheless. “The Boxing Task Force, they did an incredible job. It was probably one of the best tournaments I’ve been to. I enjoyed myself very much. I had to have three fights to qualify. There were only two spaces available for Africa, which was a lot harder than other continents. I know Europe had six and Asia had four. So it was definitely tougher,” Ali said.
“I won the preliminary, which was good, I won that unanimous. Then I got to the quarters and I personally felt let down by the referee. I felt like he just didn’t do his job properly. My opponent threw me to the canvas four times. Not once, not twice, not three times, four times and should have had a point deducted. At least one point deduction. You can even hear in the commentary watching back. I think that’s what lost me the fight. It was a split in the end, 3-2. It was quite bizarre as well. I was winning, on the judges’ scorecard round one, I was winning on the judges’ scorecard round two and then overall it was a split 3-2 loss which was obviously gutting. But had that point been deducted it would have been a unanimous decision to me. I just feel kind of let down that the referee didn’t do his job. But what can you do? You can’t change things that have happened. I’m just focusing my energies on the World qualifiers. Which were cancelled.”