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  • Jacob Sweetman: The sad tale of Rola El-Halabi


Jacob Sweetman: The sad tale of Rola El-Halabi

Boxing is a dirty and dangerous sport. Everybody knows that, but as Rola El-Halabi prepared for her world title fight in berlin last month she didn't know that it would all end so tragically.

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Photo by Dr. Ralf K. Reinhardt (Wikimedia CC)

Nobody claimed that boxing wasn’t violent, dealing with life threatening injuries is part and parcel of the sport – we’ll save the ever-growing argument about whether or not the word “sport” is a fit description for two people punching seven shades of shit out of each other for another time.

But on April 1 this year as 800 people eagerly awaited the IBF Women’s Lightweight Title Fight between Rola El-Halabi and Irma Adler at Berlin-Karlshorst’s Trabbrennbahn the thoughts were only that a decent fight would be seen and that the pugilists would be able to get home under their own steam.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be, but this isn’t the tale of another tragic ring accident, another agonising wait as everybody watches a listless figure on the floor surrounded by increasingly panicky paramedics. Anybody who watched Michael Watson hit the deck against Chris Eubank will never forget that horrible scene, and will never want to see another like it on TV or in the flesh.

But what happened in Karlshorst and – in the background – live on Eurosport, that night was somehow worse. Watson knew what he was letting himself in for. He was a professional fighter, and was (and fortunately remains to this day) an intelligent man. His risks were all known about in advance. Boxing is a dangerous game, after all.

Rola, though, knew she would be okay in the ring, but had an inkling she could be in trouble that night. Her stepfather, Roy El-Halabi, had threatened her already in the build up to the fight. He was until recently her manager and trainer. The guiding force behind her rise as a Thai kickboxing vice world champion – and more recently in the ring as a professional boxer – but also as a father figure to her. He was coming to get her, and he did – shooting two security officers first before shooting his stepdaughter three times.

As Rola told Bild from her hospital bed, “I was with my manager, a doctor and physio in my cabin as Papa stormed in. He threatened with a gun in his hand and demanded: ‘Everybody out.’ He then shot me from three meters away, in the hand. I cried and screamed.” That she can even tell the story is astonishing, such must have been in sheer fucking terror on that evening, alone in a cabin with a man on the edge, bleeding. “Then he shot me in the left foot… [I said] “Papa, please throw the weapon away, then it’s all over.” He threatened to shoot himself, but was too cowardly… he aimed and shot me in the knee and then my right foot.”

Apparently he told her where he was going to shoot her first. He was cold-blooded. And all of those other adjectives that get used for boxing – and most other sports – by lazy hacks who are trying to imbue a sense of occasion and tension (myself included in this). Eurosport had switched immediately away to the snooker, and the crowd were panicking, but security managed to get in and overwhelm Roy, as the wounded security guards and Rola were whisked away to the hospital. Fortunately nobody was killed.

Rola got out of her hospital in Ulm recently, but still doesn’t know if she’ll be able to fight again. Roy’s aim was true, and he shattered bone and joints. And there are still questions as to why. He had been relieved of his duties recently as Rola’s manager. He had been increasingly unstable under the pressure, and was raging about Rola falling in love. “I could talk to him about anything. But not about boys, that was taboo,” she said.

Whether it was the loss of face at being sacked as a manager in a competitive game, or because of Rola’s relationship, it is hard to tell. The two things were part and parcel of the same thing, but the important thing is that Rola El-Halabi is recovering. She has survived a nightmare episode that she could never have imagined having to face as she prepared for one of the biggest sporting nights of her young career.

We wish her all the best.