Cuba: The Female Boxer Fighting for Recognition
It's too late for the 2016 Olympics, but hope remains that the sport
will be officially accepted.
By Julio C.A.
After more than seven years of tireless fighting and training, of never
being knocked out by dejection, Namibia Flores, the most qualified woman
boxer in Cuba, will not enter the ring to fight for her biggest dream.
Born in Matanzas province and brought up in Havana, it is too late for
the flyweight boxer to fight in the Olympics. In Cuba, women are still
banned from taking part in international boxing competitions.
"I'm 40 years old. In this sport that's old. It's the age limit for the
Olympics," said Namibia after her five-kilometre morning run, while she
prepares for her daily training session at the Rafael Trejo boxing gym
in Havana Vieja.
The place needs repairs. The leather bags are heavily cracked, and the
majority of the gloves can't take any more rounds. The mirror has lost
part of its shine and in some areas it no longer reflects the boxers'
On the ring's old canvas Namibia seems to be dancing with her sparring
partner Maikel. She throws jabs, straights and hooks while holding
Maikel back so that he cannot counterattack. Her three training partners
watch her closely. They would like to have Namibia's resistance and punch.
She trains every day from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon.
She almost always goes to the gym in Havana Vieja, but sometimes she
goes to a vale todo (anything goes) gym in the Víbora neighbourhood,
close to Córdova Park, where they practice mixed martial arts.
"There's got to be sport in Namibia's life every day, even if I'm ill,"
Before training she just drinks a coffee and takes her vitamins. After
she drinks an ice-cold pru oriental, a frothy Haitian drink made by
fermenting different plant roots.
Namibia eats whatever is available and what she can buy in the market,
but tries by any means possible to eat vegetables and proteins.
For two months she trained with a male boxing team in Indonesia, where
she managed to beat one of its members. She has been fighting men
fearlessly for 25 years after a bout with a boy.
"They constantly harassed my brother, who was smaller than me then. I
went out to defend him and I ended up with a swollen eye," laughed Namibia.
The next day she started to practice a combat sport to learn how to
fight, although so far she has not needed to use it to dodge another
punch. She chose taekwondo, training for nine years and reaching black
belt 1st Dan. She gave Havana province its first bronze medal for the
sport in the provincial games. Then she started to work as a trainer,
but she gave up the martial art because it bored her.
At the beginning boxing was just a hobby, a way of channelling her
Love for the gloves came later, motivated by the esteem of her trainer
Nardo Mestre. He discovered her knack for boxing and he encouraged her
to prepare for the day in which women could officially measure up
against each other with their gloves on. He put the idea of an Olympic
medal into her head and she has not stopped training since.
Also, the intense physical training made her optimistic and fed her
vanity. Namibia has always enjoyed hearing that she looks young for her age.
But she does not understand why the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC),
which was created in 1960 with the objective of "achieving full equality
for woman in all areas and levels of society," has not supported women's
inclusion in boxing.
Vilma Espín, the deceased wife of President Raúl Castro headed the FMC
until her death and María Yolanda Ferrer has been the General Secretary
for two decades; neither ever took a stance on lifting the ban on women
The silence and lack of support demonstrates the Federation's refusal to
recognise female boxing in international competitions, a posture that
serves to strengthen sexist ideas on the issue.
It is even more difficult to understand the FMC's silence when almost
all combat sports, such as taekwondo, wrestling, karate and judo have
female competitors who achieve outstanding results.
In judo, for example, Cuba has Olympic and world championship medallists
such as Amarilis Savón, Yurisleidy Lupetey and Driulis González.
González, with four Olympic medals and seven world medals, is considered
to be a judo legend and the best judoist of the Americas in the 20th
After so many sacrifices without tangible results, Namibia has two
options left and neither has yet come to fruition. One option is
professional boxing but this could mean moving to a different country,
and it is not always easy to find a promoter.
"When I went to the United States I could have stayed, and now I could
be knocked out or earning money, as we say," Namibia explained. "But
that wasn't what I wanted. I don't want to live outside of Cuba. But the
formula that we have created to be able to fight and also live in Cuba
doesn't work either because there's no money in it."
Namibia has gone to the US on two occasions. First in March 2015 to
attend the presentation of Boxeadora, a documentary about her life
produced by the North American Meg Smaker. The second time was in July
of the same year to try and finalise a contract where she could train in
Havana and travel to Miami a few weeks before each fight.
She still thinks it is possible, with the help of some friends, to sign
a contract in Europe to take part in professional female boxing before
age beats her for a second time.
Namibia's second option, which she believes has potential, is to become
a trainer for young boxers in Cuba. If female boxing is officially
approved, Namibia, who also has a degree in physical education, could
train female boxers or give private personal defence classes. If all
else fails, she could fall back on her cooking skills.
"I don't have work at the moment, but I'm also a good cook," she said.
"I've cooked for paladares [small private restaurants]."
Her trainer, Mestre, believes that Namibia is physically and mentally
capable of teaching new boxers.
"She has the fortitude and the willpower. She's been training for years
for nothing. Imagine what she could achieve if she could at least train
Mestre believes that female boxing will be approved in Cuba soon.
Although so far Cuban women have not been allowed to access training
programs or to choose boxing in sport schools, this reality could change
The president of the Cuban Boxing Federation, Alberto Puig de la Barca,
told ESPN in April 2015 that "we are still considering female boxing. We
are looking at the pros and cons. It's a subject that is being
evaluated; there hasn't been a decision. We'll see over the coming years
what decision we make.
"For the moment, the Federation does not approve female boxing, at least
not in the competitive system. But we know that women are practicing
this sport. Here sport is everyone's right".
According to reports in the official media, such as the newspaper
Vanguardia, at the beginning of March the National Commission suggested
teaching women interested in boxing because the World Boxing
Confederation had approved women's participation in the Seventh Word
Series of Boxing, to be held in 2017.
The Cuban sporting authorities have not made an official statement on
the subject and the FMC still has not issued any declarations.
But female boxing fans and the general public are used to all kinds of
changes being experienced first on a small scale and with limited
publicity, and this seems to be the case for women's official entry into
Namibia has complete confidence that female boxing will be approved as
an official sport, as well as total assurance that she will continue
training until she dies.
"I'm going to be the super boxing grandmother. I'm going to carry on
boxing as long as I can throw a punch on the bag," she said jokingly. "I
think that they'll bury me in a punching bag instead of a coffin."
This story originally appeared in Vice Sports Latinoamerica.
Source: Cuba: The Female Boxer Fighting for Recognition | IWPR -