Basra’s Female Athletes Wrestling with Social Taboos

Waheed Ghanim


The Basra women’s wrestling team has achieved a lot, winning prizes around the country. And it has also managed to overcome a conservative society’s attitude towards “fighting women”.

The southern province’s female wrestling team was founded at the start of 2017 by coach, Ghazwan Abdul Karim. And by the time the sportswomen competed in the southern Iraqi championships in Diwaniyah in 2018, they were good enough to make third place.

In a conservative society such as in Basra, there are other obstacles for women who want to wrestle competitively. It’s generally considered unfeminine for females to engage in a violent contact sport like this and there are also taboos about touching opponents in certain ways and physical contact with a male coach.

But Abdul Karim says the team worked through this. “We asked the parents to come and observe our training,” he explains. “We also allowed the parents to accompany their daughters to the last tournament in Diwaniyah and we even covered some of their travel expenses.”

That is despite the fact that the women’s wrestling team is short on cash. If anybody is injured, the wrestlers have to pay their own medical costs. They also pay for their own equipment and their training space is a storage hall, without any air conditioning or basic sports amenities. Some of the Basra wrestlers don’t even have proper uniforms.

“One of my wrestlers had to wear a large swimsuit to compete and she looked pretty terrible,” Abdul Karim notes. “But she won! And there are now talks about taking some of our team and making them members of the national team,” he boasts.

The women who are involved don’t mind the lack of funding because they’re so enthusiastic about the sport, says Fatima Haider Hussein, a teacher and one of the team members. She sees wrestling as a beautiful game, where intellect and cunning about what moves to make are just as important – perhaps even more important – than size and strength.

Nour al-Houda, another wrestler, says she got started after seeing a post about the sport on social media; her father has since become one of the team’s most dedicated supporters and she is one of the team members that might get to wrestle for Iraq.

“The wrestling we do is not like freestyle wrestling,” she explains. “We depend more on moves and tactics to win.”

Sports are disappearing from our schools, says Mushtaq Hamid, the head of the Basra’s Olympic sports committee. Sports for girls are particularly scarce. “There are those who believe that female sports are immoral but this is a grave mistake,” Hamid argues. “Sport plays a part in the formation of one’s morals and what this women’s wrestling team has achieved is the best proof of that.”

Meanwhile Basra’s young women wrestlers continue to train hard and to try to solicit donations from state authorities, in the hopes that they might get to take part in tournaments in Turkey or Egypt this December.

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