Boxer Trains with U.S.
participant in the technical training camp is Iraqi boxer Najah
Ali Salah. He earned a wild-card berth in the Summer Games, making
sole competitor in the event and one of about 25 athletes who will
represent the country in Athens.
native is the son of a well-established boxer and trainer. His dad
got him involved in the sport at a young age. Despite the difficulties
of being an elite athlete within the late Uday Hussein’s sporting
system, Ali has won a number of bouts and titles. His most coveted
prize is a 2002 victory at the Arab Games, but he would like to
add a gold medal.
the beginning, my dream was to compete in the Olympics,” Ali said.
“Now I am doing it and I am very glad to represent my country. …
I want to say thank you to the United
States. The people love me and
graduated from Alrifdin University
in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree
in computer science. After the conflict with Coalition Forces ended
that year, he went to work on reconstruction projects with his father.
It wasn’t long before Ali heard of Maurice “Termite” Watkins, a
former world-class boxer from Houston
who came to Iraq
as a pest exterminator, only
to be recruited as the nation’s head boxing coach.
had a chance encounter with a British officer who liked boxing and
wanted me to train him,” Watkins said. “Within days I was training
some of the Coalition personnel. Word spread from there and the
senior adviser for the Iraqi Ministry of Youth and Sport arranged
a meeting. They asked me about the chances of putting together a
boxing team for Iraq and qualifying
for the Olympics. I told them it would be one in a million and they
said, ‘That’s fine – all we need is the one; we’re not worried about
gathered support and resources, including funds from Saddam Hussein’s
assets, to create some semblance of a suitable boxing gym -- still
disheveled by international standards. He rounded up the nation’s
best-known fighters and recruited others rumored to have talent.
Watkins said his efforts to resurrect the sport in Iraq
put him on the list of targets
identified by insurgents opposed to the American presence.
was willing to risk it because I believe so strongly in freedom
and opportunity,” Watkins said. “It has been an honor and a privilege
to coach Najah. His dad not only helped him develop his boxing skill,
he made a great human being out of him. He is a good quality person
who really symbolizes Iraq.
you believe what you see and hear from the media, Iraq
is bad. That’s bull. What you
don’t see are the 2,000 to 3,000 schools operating there, or kids
running down the street with backpacks that have USA
on them. There may be 10 percent
who are bad, but that’s true of anywhere. Most Iraqis are wonderful
people and it is a pleasure to know them.”
the Olympics, Ali plans to go to Watkins’ home state of Texas
to get his master’s degree at the University of Houston.