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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Meet the Muslim boxing champion on a mission to improve life for the world's orphans

Badou Jack spoke to The National in Dubai as he promoted his foundation to support young people

Former world boxing champion Badou Jack is launching a foundation to build and improve orphanages around the world using his career earnings. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Former world boxing champion Badou Jack is launching a foundation to build and improve orphanages around the world using his career earnings. Chris Whiteoak / The National

After winning a big title fight night, many boxing champions celebrate with a garish show of wealth and excess.

Badou Jack channels his energy into feeding orphans in some of world's poorest countries.

Undertaking tours between title bouts, the 34-year-old has funded meals in Jordanian refugee camps and donated clothing to villages in Gambia.

The 34-year-old former WBC super middleweight and former WBA light heavyweight champion has made it his mission to help give as many children as possible around the world "a fighting chance".

"A fighting chance is to help them with books, food, electricity, whatever it could be and wherever, in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, everywhere and to everybody that needs help," says Jack, who was born to a Swedish mother and Gambian father.

As an observant Muslim who "lives under the umbrella of Islam", Jack believes it is important for him to serve as a role model.

"There are not a lot of Muslim world champions, so I want to be one of them and represent my people and give back to the community.

"As a Muslim, in order to serve God you have to serve your fellow man."

Badou Jack with orphans of Baqa'a refugee camp in Jordan. Courtesy: Badou Jack
Badou Jack with orphans of Baqa'a refugee camp in Jordan. Courtesy: Badou Jack

He has fed and clothed the people of three villages in his native Gambia, a stable but poor West African state, and paid for them to be supplied with electricity.

His work rebuilt the medical centre of Al Baqaa camp for Palestinian refugees in Jordan and supplied it with new medical equipment, and he has supported orphanages and communities around the world.

His latest initiative this Ramadan involved sending equipment to Ahl Al Azem, a special needs association in Jordan, to help it practise technical jobs.

Now he intends to bring his humanitarian projects into a foundation that he hopes will draw in more benefactors and carry bigger-scale projects worldwide. To date, he has pursued projects personally and funded them through his own earnings.

In Dubai, which he calls his second home, he officially launched the Badou Jack Foundation.

"We wanted to announce the launch of the foundation and that is what we are doing here, announcing the Badou Jack Foundation with the slogan ‘to give kids a fighting chance’".

Adonis Stevenson, right, hits Badou Jack with a right during their WBC light heavyweight championship boxing match in Toronto on Saturday, May 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Adonis Stevenson, right, strikes Badou Jack during their WBC light heavyweight match on May 19, 2018. Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press via AP

His projects to date have helped those in Muslim countries, but he is keen to draw in support and attract benefactors from all faiths and regions.

“We are not doing this as a Muslim/non-Muslim thing, but humanities in general; that is the religion that we all abide by.

“In today’s world unfortunately, there is a lot more segregation, racially, religiously…”

“The messages I get here in Dubai from everybody, from all different nationalities, religions and races – this whole vision of unity is all tied into the Badou Jack Foundation.”

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Jack has been attached to boxing star Floyd Mayweather's promotion company and become popular among fans.

Jack’s passion for helping people is also driven by the harsh nature of the sport he chose as a career.

“Boxing is a brutal and physical sport where you have to actually put pain on your opponent to win, but outside the ring I feel the responsibility to be gentle and humble," he says.

His journey with boxing started when he was 18, after a friend took him to a local gym in his home town in Sweden.

“And ever since then, I have been training really hard.”

He became a member of the Swedish national team in 2004 and won the Swedish National Championship.

“It took me three years to get on the team, and after that I started fighting all over the world.”

In 2008, he represented his father’s country, Gambia, at the Olympics in Beijing. He was also the flagbearer.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - May 24th, 2018: World boxing champ Badou Jack. He is in Dubai doing the philanthropic and humanitarian tour he does after each fight and has already fed an entire village in Gambia. Badou is also launching the Badou Jack foundation to build and enhance orphanages around the world from his own money. Thursday, May 24th, 2018 at Five, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Jack speaks to The National in Dubai this week. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“I wanted to make my dad proud because they [the Gambia] never had a boxer in the Olympics, the whole country had only three athletes in any sport.”

“In 2009, when I became a professional in Sweden and I did not have any professional contracts, I just had two fights in Sweden and two in Finland, after that I got discovered and moved the to the US in 2010.”

He says boxing taught him discipline and “to make weight, you cannot eat whatever you want, you have got to act like a professional”.

“I always loved boxing and I really wanted to pursue a career there, and since then that's been my life, it has been a long road and we are here now.”

“I hope I made the right choice.”

Jack also aims to make fighting sports bigger in the UAE: “They never had a world title fight here, so hopefully we can make it bigger, I would love to fight here one day.

“Maybe I can be the first world title fighter to fight here.”

He is considering moving to the Emirates his wife Yasmeen, as this is where he says he feels comfortable raising his children: 2-year old daughter Malaniyah and 2-month old son Malik.

“I love Dubai and I've got my wife here, maybe we’ll look at some houses here, we'll see. I’m very spontaneous,” he says.