The London 2012 Olympic Games are just about six months away with the opening ceremony scheduled for Friday, July 27. For the first time, women’s boxing will be on the Olympic Games program. It seems appropriate that this sport, long and largely associated with men, is making its Olympic debut in London as women’s boxing can be traced back to 18th century England. While some commentators have argued against women being involved in what is considered a brutal and often bloody sport, surprisingly, the larger controversy coming out of including women’s boxing in the Olympic Games is not the fundamental physicality of the sport itself, but rather what the women boxers will wear.

The International Olympic Committee decided in 2009 to allow women’s boxing into the 2012 Olympic schedule as an official discipline. According to a BBC report, “The move followed a systematic review of its sports programme, which found men could compete in 164 events while women could only enter 124.”

In preparation for the Olympic debut of the sport, the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) met two weeks ago to discuss the games and make subsequent recommendations, including dress requirements. One of the items on their agenda was whether female boxers should be made to box in skirts at the Olympics. This is a topic that created a firestorm of criticism in September of 2010 after the President of the AIBA complained that spectators could apparently “not tell the difference” between women and men fighters, so requiring the women to box in skirts was recommended as a fix for this. It was also suggested by the coaches of the women’s boxing teams from Poland and Romania, who had their athletes in skirts at the European Championships, that wearing skirts in the ring made the female athletes look “more elegant” and gave a “more womanly impression”. Nearly 56,000 people have signed up to a campaign on Change.org petitioning the AIBA to reverse the recommendation that women boxers should wear skirts. The petition was started by a London based amateur boxer, Elizabeth Plank.

Here is where we put our 2 cents in:

$.01 – Don’t boxers typically bob and weave and punch and jab in trunks? Isn’t that their uniform? According to a history of women’s boxing uniforms on Livestrong.com, “A photograph of an anonymous woman boxer from 1911 already shows a uniform recognizably similar to the one used today – a pair of trunks and a sleeveless shirt. A photograph of boxer Jeanne LaMar from 1927 shows the same type of uniform.” So, why is the AIBA even discussing what women boxers should wear, if that determination has been in place for over a century?

$.01 – Our bigger issue is with the nonsensical reasons they cited for suggesting that female boxers wear skirts, specifically. When you are choosing to compete in a sport where you or your opponent will likely be pummeled (face, brain and body), we are certain that “elegance” is not high on the athletes’ priority lists. We’re thinking speed, agility, coordination, endurance and strength are much bigger issues for them… no? As for skirts “distinguishing” female from male boxers, even if someone attempted to argue the supposed necessity of that, is it really that difficult to suddenly tell women and men apart just because they’ve stepped into a boxing ring? Aside from a host of characteristics that distinguish women and men, the last time we checked, male boxers compete shirtless. So, here’s an easy tip for the confused members of the AIBA… the athletes with their breasts shoved into sports bras are the women!

But, even the female boxers themselves are on both sides of the skirt issue as reported in a recent BBC Sport article, “Speaking at the European Championships, Ireland’s three-time world champion Katie Taylor told BBC Sport: ‘I won’t be wearing a mini-skirt. I don’t even wear mini-skirts on a night out, so I definitely won’t be wearing one in the ring.'” The article went on to say, “But there has been support from some boxers, such as MC Mary Kom of India: ‘The tennis players wear skirts and the badminton players are wearing skirts so why don’t the boxers wear skirts?'” Then there are other who have expressed there are “more important issues to deal with in women’s boxing – the acceptance of women’s boxing, acceptance of women in boxing gyms – than whether they should wear skirts or not.”

Elizabeth PlankPutting gender, stereotypes, and what could be cultural preferences aside, we think the most relevant argument to the athletic component of this issue was made by Elizabeth Plank herself when she says in the explanation of her Change.org petition, “forcing female boxers to wear a uniform they are not comfortable in may have direct consequences on their performance.” As several folks on the WYSK team are former athletes in all different sports, we agree. It’s simply unfair to ask any athlete to compete while wearing an item of apparel in which they are uncomfortable or may have never even trained. As the final decision on the controversy will only be made in July, just weeks before the 2012 Olympic Games, a skirt mandate for women boxers would be even more unconscionable at such a late date.

2012 Women’s Boxing Team USA

While the great skirt debate rages on, U.S. boxing fans will have the chance to witness history at the first-ever U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Women’s Boxing, which start in less than two weeks on February 13. The nation’s top 24 female boxers will face off in Olympic Trials action in Spokane, Washington, with each boxer competing for a spot in the first Olympic Games to showcase women’s boxing.

The seven-day event will feature eight boxers in each of the three Olympic weight classes vying for a chance to represent the United States at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The tournament is a double elimination format with preliminary action beginning on February 13 and running through final round action on February 18 and 19 (if necessary).

The 24 boxers competing in the historic tournament all earned their berths through an extensive qualifying process, which began nearly a year ago. The winners from the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Women’s Boxing will represent the United States in the lone international Olympic qualifier, the 2012 Women’s World Championships in May in China. The trio will have to finish in the top eight at the event to punch their ticket for London.  To learn more visit USA Boxing, the official governing body of amateur boxing in the United States.

Women In The American Ring: A Brief History

usa-boxingWomen’s amateur boxing in the U.S. took a long time to develop. In fact, female professional bouts were held prior to the official sanctioning of amateur bouts. USA Boxing first allowed females to compete in October 1993 after 16-year-old Dallas Malloy sued the organization in federal court on account of gender discrimination. Malloy – a native of Washington state – defeated Heather Poyner in the first sanctioned women’s amateur bout. This fight was a stepping stone that led to numerous advancements in women’s amateur boxing. (Source: Boxing.isport.com)