Following a decision this week, women will compete in the Olympic boxing tournament in 2012 for the first time since 1904. Consequently, every sport at London 2012 will have both male and female participants.
There will be only 36 female boxers competing in three weight categories but the decision demonstrates an important commitment to progress towards equality of opportunity in sport for women.
It is probably only in gymnastics, tennis and equestrian sport that female athletes draw as much media attention as men. Judging from the extensive comment in recent days on the introduction of women’s boxing to the Olympic Games, boxing could be another sport in which women gain a high profile.
Boxing, whose origins date back thousands of years, will always be controversial because the ultimate aim is to inflict brain damage on the opponent - it can never be just another sport. As I mentioned in a previous post, the British Medical Association (BMA), the professional association for doctors, has called for the abolition of amateur and professional boxing in Britain since 1982 without making much visible progress. Unsurprisingly, the BMA expressed “disappointment” at this week’s news.
Several commentators in British media made the point that if men are able to take part in boxing then that
opportunity should also be afforded to women. Matthew Syed wrote in The Times “either you ban boxing for men and women on the ground of paternalistic morality or you ban neither”. A contrasting view point is offered by a boxing promoter writing in Scotland on Sunday who states “I prefer women to wear Chanel rathern than catgut”.
There is no doubt about the combination of skill, speed and stamina required in Olympic boxing, which features short bouts and protective head-gear. Nevertheless, many sports fans are ambivalent about men’s boxing. When it comes to women’s boxing, the experience of watching a fight will force spectators to question some deeply-held beliefs.
One of sport’s important achievements is to help challenge prejudices about ethnicity, disability and gender. When the first woman enters the ring to box in London in 2012 I suspect there will be plenty of people watching but some may admit to feeling uncomfortable about doing so.