muay thai champion ruqsana begum talks about the challenges she faced
by Reena KumaR
The world of kickboxing is lacking female coaches and role models, muay Thai champion Ruqsana Begum has claimed.
The world title-holder
told Eastern Eyethis was still an issue, despite boxing for women being introduced into the Olym- pics recently, giving female fighters a platform to “rise and inspire”.
overcame severe ex- haustion caused by ME [Myalgic Enceph- alopathy] to win the prestigious title earli er this year, as well as challenging the ex- pectations of her “strict Muslim family”.
In 2010, Begum became the British atom weight champion, and a year later, she won the European gold medal in Latvia.
She revealed that it was her faith in God and strong mental attitude which motivated her to excel in the field.
Begum grew up in east London and currently teaches ladies only kickboxing classes as well as working part time in a school as a science technician.
She didn’t realise she was an inspira- tional figure until she took stock of what she had achieved, she explained.
“Having more female coaches and role models is what we lack. I didn’t set out to be a role model when I first started in the sport,” she said.
“I didn’t realise what I did was special in many people’s eyes. Then I sat down and looked back on my journey and I thought, ‘oh my goodness, I can’t believe I sacrificed leaving a good job… compro- mising on going out. I would very much isolate myself to do my sport.”
Begum studied architectural technol- ogy at university but lost her job in the industry at a top firm once the recession hit. She began to throw herself into kick- boxing, which was then just a hobby.
She added: “It was something I’ve al- ways wanted to do but I knew given my background, the way my family would react. It’s something that I couldn’t pur- sue, so I was holding myself back.”
She decided to take her parents to the gym and they gave her their blessings to continue with the sport.
“Within a year, I got selected (for Team GB where she won a bronze medal) then I thought, ‘if I can do this, maybe I can do a little bit more.’ I still can’t believe it when I walk into a room and people call me a world champion. I’m giggling.”
Last year, the athlete launched a sports hijab to help make sports more inclusive for Muslim girls.
“When I was in Thailand in 2009 (at the world amateur kickboxing champion- ship), I was amazed to see Morocco, Iran,
Turkey and other Muslim countries com- peting in full squads. All the female ath- letes had full hijabs on. In Britain we’re not quite there.
“There are a lot of Muslim athletes who want to compete and they are having trouble competing with their traditional hijabs on.
“Nike designed a hijab for a sports- woman and I thought, if it’s there for elite athletes, it should be there for regular school girls. That would make it much more inclusive.”
Begum admits that if she had had a sports hijab growing up, it would have been easier to talk to her family about her passion in themale-dominated
As well as continuing to inspire young women, the martial arts champion is hoping to write a book about her journey to the top and is also in talks with pro- ducers about a documentary on her life.
Begum recently featured in a video for Selfridges alongside other role models to celebrate body confidence where she modelled an active wear range. The film, entitled Incredible machines, shows the British Bangladeshi sparring.
“It’s about being confident in your own skin. It’s about empowering women and being strong and confident. Models don’t need to be skinny any more, it’s all about, muscle, strength and feeling confident with your body,” she said.