Tajikistan: Female Boxer Fights Odds, Wins Olympic Bronze

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

Mavzuna Chorieva, a 19-year-old athlete from Tajikistan, won a bronze medal in the women's lightweight boxing at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

The fighter who was Tajikistan's flag-bearer at the opening ceremony eliminated the highly ranked Chinese boxer Cheng Dong in a quarterfinal match on August 6, before losing her semi-final against veteran Irish fighter Katie Taylor two days later. The 26-year-old Irish who had previously won four world championships and five European titles consequently took gold.

Chorieva won the Olympic medal against all odds. In Tajikistan, where boxing and other combat sports are mostly denied to women, for many years the fighter had to disguise herself as a boy in order to take part in competitions. Even after Chorieva was allowed to participate in tournaments, she had to box with men because there were simply no female fighters to train with. Moreover, last year the athlete underwent kidney surgery which risked leaving her unable to compete internationally.

Mavzuna Chorieva, Tajik boxer who won a bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Screenshot from BBC video”Tajik female boxer's hopes for Olympic games” uploaded July 10, 2012, by YouTube user Rebecca Leighton.

In Tajikistan, Chorieva has to box with men because there are no female fighters to train with. Screenshot from BBC video”Tajik female boxer's hopes for Olympic games” uploaded July 10, 2012, by YouTube user Rebecca Leighton.

(Watch the pre-Olympics BBC video report about Mavzuna Chorieva, “Tajik female boxer's hopes for Olympic games,” here).

Delight at home

Chorieva's bronze medal has delighted fans in Tajikistan who earlier saw the country's main Olympic medal hopefuls demolished in men's wrestling and judo. After it became clear that Chorieva was guaranteed to bring home a medal, her success has dominated discussion on the Tajik segment of Facebook and on news forums. For most people in Tajikistan, the boxer's bronze does not matter any less than Olympic gold or silver. Moreover, Tajik citizens are confident that the young athlete's victory is just the first major step in her sports career.

Mehrdad Khayrullopur wrote [tj] on Facebook:

Ofarin bar Mavzuna. Inshoalloh dar oyanda sohibi medali tillo ham meshavad. Bo sazovor gashtan bo medali birinji uro tabrik meguyem.

Well done, Mavzuna. God willing, she will win a gold medal in future too. Congratulations on claiming a bronze medal, which she deserved.

Another Facebook user, Bakhtiyor Faysolloev, added [tj]:

Хайр аз Мавзунахони азиз хеле миннатдорем, ки нагузошт мо хушку холи аз ин Олимпиада баргардем.

We are really grateful to Mavzuna for ensuring that [the Tajikistan team] doesn't return from the Olympics empty-handed.

Ali Mastov suggested [ru]:

Надо сказать что Мавзуна проиграла не кому нибудь, а 4хкаратному чемпиону мира. Будь жребий по удачнее наша гордость могла бы и выйти в финал. Еще раз мои поздравление Мавзуну и ее тренерам!!!

I must say that Mavzuna didn't lose to a complete nobody, she was defeated by a four-time world champion [in boxing]. Had [Chorieva's] placing been different, she could have progressed to the finals. Once again, I would like to congratulate Mavzuna and her coaches!!!

Tajik musician Olim Shirinov also commented [ru] on Chorieva's success on Facebook:

Эта девочка , без лишних слов, сделала для страны куда больше многих любителей потрепать языком… От всей души поздравляю Мавзуну с прекрасным ввыступлением на Олимпиаде, а всех нас с тем, что у нас есть такие спортсмены!

Without talking much, this girl has done much more for the country than all those who like to talk… I would like to sincerely congratulate Mavzuna with a great performance at the Olympics; and congratulations to us all for having such athletes!

Shabnam Azizullaeva chimed in [ru]:

Мавзуна по-любому молодец! Ей только 19 и вся карьера впереди!..

Well done, Mavzuna, in any case! She is just 19, and she has her entire [sports] career ahead of her.

More than just a medal

Comments in social media indicate that for many Internet users in Tajikistan, Mavzuna Chorieva's bronze means much more than just an Olympic success. Journalist Salim Aioubzod suggested [tj] on Facebook :

Мавзуна фақат Мавзуна нест, балки яке аз чунин рамзҳои ҳувият ва ваҳдати миллист.

Mavzuna is not just Mavzuna; she is [also] a symbol of the essence and unity of [our] nation.

Other netizens view the female boxer's achievement as an indication of broader changes in Tajikistan. For example, Jasur Ahurov suggested on Twitter that Chorieva has “broken major stereotypes about Tajik women…”

Suhrob Kasymov proposed [ru] that the athlete's success is another indication of the crucial role that women play in Tajik society:

Опять женщины тянут всю страну за собой. Вновь таджикские женщины делают все за таджикских мужчин, даже медали теперь выигрывают за  таджикских мужчин…

Once again, women are at the forefront of the country's [development]. Once again, Tajik women rather than Tajik men are doing everything; they rather than Tajik men are now winning medals…

Muhayyo Nuriddinova wrote [ru] optimistically:

Надеюсь Чориева станет стимулом для других таджичек и ряд чемпионок пополнится в ближайшем будущем. Не важно, победит или нет, она уже нарушила стереотип нашего общества, оказывается таджички способны на многое…

I hope Chorieva will become a motivation for other Tajik girls and women, and we will have more female champions in future. It doesn't matter whether she wins or loses, [for] she has already broken a social stereotype. [She has shown] that Tajik girls and women can achieve a lot…

Blogger Harsavor explains [ru] why Chorieva's medal means so much for Tajikistan:

Mедаль Мавзуны особенная именно потому, что ее принесла нашей стране девушка. Да, в Таджикистане со спортом серьезные проблемы, но в женском спорте вообще давно пора кричать “караул”. Стереотипы, культурные ограничения и традиции являются все более серьезным барьером на пути развития женского спорта в стране… Соответсвенно, олимпийский успех Мавзуны способен разрушить имеющиеся в нашем обществе стереотипы относительно занятия девушек спортом, а также послужить отличным примером для остальных девушек, которые хотят заниматься спортом вопреки превалирующему общественному мнению.

Mavzuna's medal is so special because it was claimed for our country by a girl. Yes, Tajikistan has serious problems when it comes to sports in general, but women's sports finds itself [in a particularly dire situation]. Stereotypes, cultural limitations, and traditions all serve as serious obstacles to the development of women's sports in the country… Thus, Mavzuna's Olympic success might break social stereotypes concerning women's engagement in sports and serve as a great example for other girls who want to go in for sports despite the prevailing public attitudes.

However, some netizens believe that it doesn't actually matter that Tajikistan's Olympic medal was won by a girl. For example, Olesya Alena Pashchenko wrote [ru] on Facebook:

Главное, что спорт в стране возрождается. И неважно, кто- мужчина или женщина принес Первую Олимпийскую медаль в копилку Таджикистана. Главное – гимн прозвучал на всех континентах и о моей Родине миллионы людей будут знать теперь как о государстве, в котором есть ТАКИЕ спортсмены!..

The most important thing is that sports is being revived in the country. It doesn't matter who brought Tajikistan its first Olympic medal [in London] – man or woman. What matters is that our national anthem was heard on all continents, and millions of people will now know my Fatherland as a country which has SUCH athletes!..

Debating women's role

Yet, not everyone agrees that the patriarchal society should give in and allow females to compete in combat sports and martial arts. For instance, Rustam Khotamov left [ru] the following comment on the Asia-Plus news website:

Она же таджичка, мусульманка! Ей бы замуж выйти и детей растить, а не прыгать по рингу как обезьяна и драться с другими женщинами. Позор! Как ее родители только позволили ей заняться боксом?

But she is a Tajik, a Muslim! She'd better get married and raise children rather than jumping in the boxing ring like a monkey and fighting other women. Shame! How could her parents let her go in for boxing?

The comment was quickly disapproved of, with several users criticizing Khotamov for being “backward” and “short-sighted”. This demonstrates that younger, well-educated, and urban-based Tajiks – the group that has Internet access and reads news online – are probably less prejudiced about women's engagement in sports and their social role in general than their older, less educated, and rural-based compatriots.

Overall, the reaction of Internet users in Tajikistan to Chorieva's Olympic bronze has been one of jubilation. Perhaps, the following comment [tj] left on Facebook by Daler Fayzov, best summarizes the Tajikistanis’ view of the female boxer's achievement:

Медали биринчии ту барои мо тилло,тиллоят бриллиант,новобаста аз ин хама,ту аллакай кахрамони,Мавзуна!

Your bronze medal is gold for us, and your gold is diamond. [I]rrespective of everything, you are already a champion, Mavzuna!

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.


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