We Meet The Hijabi Boxing Champion Fighting For Her Sport
Zeina Nassar is the trailblazing face of Nike Pro Hijab.
To celebrate the launch of the first ever performance hijab, the Nike Pro Hijab, we caught up with feisty brand ambassador and four-times German boxing champion Zeina Nassar. Zeina knows what it means to fight for your passion, tirelessly punching through prejudices as she rises to the top of her game – a Muslim female in a man's world. We chat to the trailblazing athlete about her boxing journey, the importance of her religion and her diehard fighting spirit.
When was the first moment you thought, I want to be a boxer?
After being in the elite area, where age did not matter anymore. When I was 18 years old, I was allowed to box with all the women, no matter how experienced they were. Weight class is important and must be followed, but the age does not really matter at this point. I had opponents who were 20 to 30 years older and had much more experience. After I had boxed with those, I noticed, that's what I really want. I want to make these experiences and have only very strong opponents.
What challenges did you face on your way to the top?
My challenge was to assert myself, to prove myself against these prejudices – mainly because of my performance but also because of the hijab. And above all, that I continue with what I'm doing. That I had this stamina. I get mostly positive comments, but I do get hate comments. When a video with 60 to 70 thousand views was uploaded earlier, there were some negative comments and personal messages besides the positives. I thought that my mission is now to prove myself to the haters even more. I take it as a motivation and I get back many positive messages that give me strength. I realize how many people I’ve already reached, who I inspire, so I will never quit. I used to feel very upset when I was younger because I did not understand it, it was all about my sport. By now, I’ve learned to just ignore it.
What role does religion play in your sport?
A pretty important role. My religion is present in everything I do. And it shows that it's all about the sport. Religion plays a big role because you can make a mark, but you do not want to be judged based on that. On the one hand, there are advantages to show that I am wearing the headscarf and still being a successful boxer, on the other hand it is annoying that for most people, its the only thing they talk about. At the competitions earlier, I got a bit of a look from people, but the same people came over to me after the competition and congratulated me after they saw my performance. I fight the prejudices by boxing with my headscarf. I always had to fight them because I had to hear that women with headscarves are not educated, are forced to wear the headscarf and have no freedom. I prove them wrong, those are only clichés. So religion plays an important role.
In your opinion, what impact does the Nike Pro Hijab have on the performance world in general?
It's about time. We live in the 21st century and it can not be that we still have problems with it in sports. I think it's amazing and I'm really excited about the Nike Pro Hijab because I feel like more women are finally getting more confident and taking the step. I am very excited and proud of it.
What's been your greatest accomplishment in boxing?
For me personally, it’s that the competition regulations have been changed just for me. In sports, it was the participation in the German Championships in 2017.
How do you handle stress and pressure?
I need the stress and I balance it out with sport; it’s my therapy. That's why I can handle it very well. I'm used to it and could not do it without stress. Since I can let everything out on the punching bag or when I go for a run, I can compensate the stress.
Do you apply the same fighting spirit to other aspects of your life?
Boxing plays a very important role in my everyday life. This is totally transferable to life. I started taking responsibility after I started paying attention to my diet or my training. I also started giving boxing classes even though I was the youngest in my boxing studio. When you have goals in mind, you have to do everything you can to achieve them. It’s the same with boxing. If winning is my goal, I give everything. It's the same in life. If I want something, I do everything for it. Or I recognize limits – in sports and in real life. Also discipline; it’s one of the most important things in boxing and in real life. It starts with little things like punctuality and the will to never give up. Although I'm so exhausted, I'm so ambitious to get it done. In boxing I have that too. If I can not do it anymore, I think I have to go on, I have to win. Definitely discipline! That's what I transfer the most to my private life.
What would you say to any woman who feels discouraged from entering a male-dominated sport?
That you should not let yourself down. If you're on it, you should do it and look at other inspiring examples in life. Never lose confidence in yourself. You just have to pull it through, that's very important. You're never alone, you always have people around you who believe in you.
What's the future of women in boxing?
It is already changing for the positive. Finally, it’s being acknowledged and there aren’t any discussions anymore if it’s a sport for women, too. What’s still bothering me is what the Klitschko brothers said back in 2009. I used to be a big fan of them, they’re very successful and have a function as role models but back then, they said that boxing is a sport for men only. A lot of younger people hear something like that and adopt that opinion. I think it’s sad, we’re living in the 21st century. So my goal is to prove it to those people that boxing is not only a sport for men. I want to prove the complete opposite. But I am already convinced that women are being acknowledged in boxing. You can already see that since so many women take part in competitions and trainings.
What’s your biggest goal for 2018?
I want to take part in fights outside of Berlin and Germany. At the moment my track record is not that good because some time ago there weren’t many women boxing and others canceled when they heard that I’m their opponent. They thought I was too strong for them. So, my goal is to do as many competitions as possible outside of Berlin and Germany – and I want to run a half-marathon.