Twice a week in a small gym in the northern Egyptian city of Beni Suef, 36-year-old Sabah Saqr leads with her fists…
teaching a group of young men and boys how to box – a skill she says she picked up by accident, encouraged by a coach who admired her strength and energy.
(SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) EGYPTIAN ATHLETE AND BOXING COACH, SABAH SAQR, SAYING: “At first I said no. Then I trained for 10 days, and he said I needn't worry because I wouldn't be doing any championships, not at the beginning. But he trained me for 10 straight days, saw the power and the energy. This last thing was just missing. He taught me technical skills, techniques, how to defend, how to hit and things like that. He took me to my first championship, and I won third place on a national level.”
Saqr soon became a powerhouse, winning several championships and more than 10 medals before starting to coach in 2019.
Now a working mother with one son, she trains around 20 men between the ages of 18 and 30 – an unusual profession for a woman in a small agricultural town, 60 miles south of Cairo.
(SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) EGYPTIAN ATHLETE AND BOXING COACH, SABAH SAQR, SAYING: "At first this situation wasn't accepted. As you know, in Upper Egypt, it was hard in sports like boxing. Adding that it is a girl doing the training, that made it a bit harder. After a while they accepted the situation, finding a girl that trains seriously, just like a boy. The exercises are very harsh and continuous. So, they liked the seriousness of the training."
And have come to respect and trust their coach.
(SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) BOXING TRAINEE, AMR SALAH ELDIN, SAYING: "At the beginning I didn't like this at all. For a woman to train a man, that isn't a very good thing and not favoured in Upper Egypt. But with her experience and her excellence, especially given the fact that we don't have a lot of boxing trainers in the countryside, we started moving with her one step at a time, letting her train us. And thank God, she is very good at training. We are getting better with her training."
(SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) BOXING TRAINEE, MOHAMED SAYED, SAYING: "I want to tell every man to accept the idea of a woman training him. A girl can bring good training, excellent training, just like a man. So there is no need to not accept this. This has to be accepted. Just like it is a man training you."