By Mariam Nihal
If you have seen the Nike video featuring strong female athletes from the region, you know the hype is real. If you thought Arab women were all about fashion, think again. Not only are they smart entrepreneurs but are also excelling in sports. We spoke to their new brand ambassador- Jordanian boxer Arifa Bseiso this week about her journey, changing ideologies and of course ‘the society’ Nike also addresses in its video. Born and raised in Amman, Bseiso has a BA in Radio, TV, Film and Journalism. She is also a filmmaker and a combat sports TV presenter.
Bseiso is a two-time national boxing champion of Jordan and captain of the women’s national boxing team of Jordan. She is the producer and presenter of her show ‘Martial Arts with Arifa’ which she also self-directs. But Bseiso grew up with less or no interest in athletics. “I didn’t have an athletic role model to inspire me,” she told Saudi Gazette. “At 23 I felt like I needed a lifestyle change, so my friend took me to a kickboxing for fitness class. I didn’t even know this type of exercise existed. I loved it right away and seeing this as a form of fitness was life changing for me. I enjoyed punching, which led me to seek out a boxing gym to join.”
She started at a boxing club in Jordan where she met her coach Ayman Nadi. “He liked my focus and dedication and decided to train me. He taught me theory and technique, we used to watch fights together and analyze them. It was like learning an art form from all aspects. I am not the most patient person, but when it came to boxing I became very patient,” she said. After three months of training, she participated in and won the first ever women’s national boxing championship in Jordan. “I asked my coach if I could fight. He said no. After a few
girls dropped out, I said I would fill in, ‘but I have never been punched in the face’ so my coach punched me in the face, and said ‘now you have’. I won, which was unexpected, the odds were 100% against me , the moment my hand was raised my life changed.”
Discussing her accolades and new role at Nike, she said: “It’s about time a global brand featured Arab athletes in their campaigns. I am proud to be a Nike ambassador representing my region as for our plans, watch this space. Courage and passion go hand in hand. At 23 I found a sport I was passionate about and changed my life. Arab women are knocking out stereotypes; they are winning Olympic medals, they are film directors, authors, they are on Forbes magazine covers, pilots, business women, scientists, good will ambassadors and athletes. I
could not be prouder to be among them.”
When asked what gives her the courage to come out as a proud athlete in a conservative society, which now seems to be changing, she said she did not face any resistance and on the contrary was supported by friends and family alike in a sport that was mainly male orientated.
She earned the support and appreciation from men around her, especially in the same sport. “My family, friends and community have been very supportive of my journey since day one. I trained with the men’s national boxing team of Jordan for years. Those men are tough and some are ranked top 10 in the world, I only had their respect and support. I am overwhelmed by the amount of support and positive feedback I have received. Women all over the world have responded with an outpouring of energy and enthusiasm to take the first step towards their goals.”
Bseiso is focused on getting her YouTube show ‘Martial Arts with Arifa’ featured on a major channel. She believes even though Nike says ‘if you have a body you are an athlete’, she is living proof that you don’t have to be. “You don’t have to be an athlete from birth. If you find a sport or a way of movement you’re passionate about you will succeed. To misquote Socrates: ‘No woman has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a woman to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which her body is capable.'” Her advice to aspiring young women is: “Find your boxing- it could be yoga, Brazilian jujitsu, cross-fit, any sport you are passionate about and let it transform you.”