‘Hometown Heroes’ unveiled as Birmingham gears up for Commonwealth Games

·3-min read

England’s first hijab-wearing boxing coach Haseebah Abdullah is among 14 ‘Hometown Heroes’ unveiled by Birmingham 2022 ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Games.

The campaign celebrates and recognises the diversity of the West Midlands and is made up of coaches, managers, umpires and fundraisers, who have dedicated their lives to grassroots sport in the region.

Abdullah, who coaches at Windmill Boxing Gym in Smethwick, is honoured for developing female participation in the sport, having also played a huge role in changing official dress code rules to allow women to wear a headscarf and full length clothing.

She said: “It feels absolutely amazing to have been selected as a Hometown Hero. My aim has always been to provide a service, a home, a safe haven and a platform for equality in my sport and community.

“I’ve fought really hard to earn my place as a boxing coach, challenging stereotypes and overcoming many barriers.

“Receiving this recognition proves to me that we should always be the change we wish to see.

“As a coach I will continue to dedicate my time to create positive noise, break down barriers, accommodate different needs and be a driving force for equality and participation.”

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The 14-strong list was drawn up after 2022 Commonwealth Games organisers received hundreds of nominations from members of the public.

Each ‘Hometown Hero’ will be profiled on Birmingham 2022’s website and social media channels over the coming weeks and will receive a special glass award to mark their achievement.

Among those also honoured are Naseem Akhtar, who has spent more than 20 years encouraging thousands of women in inner city Birmingham to transform their lives through physical activity.

She has set up The Young Sahelis, a youth club for girls aged 14 to 25, as well as the Saheli running and cycling clubs.

Kevin Dillon, head coach at Lions Amateur Boxing Club in Brierley Hill, has been recognised for his work despite being visually-impaired having contracted meningitis as a child.

In 2019, Dillon launched a podcast called ‘Black Country Blokes’, which covers the struggles and successes that men experience, with topics such as mental and physical health, fitness, work and family life, aiming to remove the stigma around taboo subjects.

Birmingham 2022 chief executive Ian Reid said: “I’m in awe of our 14 Hometown Heroes. Their generosity to their club, whether that’s giving up their time or just being a listening ear, is inspiring.

“Shining the spotlight on these devoted individuals will no doubt encourage participation in sport and physical activity across the West Midlands.”

Full list of ‘Hometown Heroes’: Haseebah Abdullah (coach at Windmill boxing team, Smethwick), Naseem Akhtar (project manager at Saheli Hub, Balsall Heath), Salma Bi (coach, umpire and fundraiser, and director of Sporting Pathways, Birmingham), Jeevan Chagger (chairman, coach and umpire at City of Birmingham Hockey Club), Ricardo D’Alva (coach at City of Birmingham Rockets Basketball Club), Kirsty Davie (team manager and coach at Birmingham Moseley Women’s RFC), Kevin Dillon (head coach at Lions Amateur Boxing Club, Brierley Hill), Dave Heeley (runner and charity fundraiser, West Bromwich), Joan Hunter (coach at University of Birmingham Netball Club), Steve Mroso (coach and team manager at Team Birmingham Elite Basketball Club), Yasmin Nessa (co-founder of Saltley Stallions Women’s Football Club), Kevin Redmond (coach at Solihull Moors FC Ability Counts), Sarah Scanlon (umpire at Ernesford Grange Netball Club, Coventry), Ranjit Singh (coach at Wolverhampton Wrestling Club).