Equality for Female Boxers in the Olympics

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2013 – A Year of Missed Opportunity for AIBA Olympic Style Boxing?
December 23, 2013


(DEC 23) After the huge success story that was ‘ London 2012’, one has to say that 2013 has been a ‘disappointing year’ for AIBA Olympic-style women’s boxing worldwide with only one major Senior Elite Championships taking place. The American Confederation (AMBC) event took place in Venezuela where the three Olympic weights brought success for the United States trio of Marlen Esparza, Queen Underwood and Franchon Crews.


Franchon Crews


Queen Underwood


Marlen Esparza

A huge disappointment was the non participation of Olympic Gold medallist Claressa Shields ruled out following the change of age limits introduced by the AIBA earlier in the year which meant that Ms. Shields had to compete in Youth competitions in her native land (where hardly surprisingly no one dared to challenge her) or later in the year in the AIBA World Youth Championships in Bulgaria where it would have been the ‘shock of the year’ if she had not emerged victorious. That World Youth and junior event in Albena was indeed a success and gives hope for the future albeit it did nothing for the stars of the Senior Elites who had made such an impact on London 2012. True there was limited live streaming coverage from Albena but it gained little “live” media coverage outside the normal boxing websites and AIBA/EUBC’s own media sources.

The AMBC event apart, have other continents and countries fared any better in 2013? On the face of it NO – in England not one of the three Team GB boxers from London 2012 was entered for the 2013 ABAE Elite Championships in early December so fans of women’s elite boxing wanting to see such as Natasha Jonas, World 75kg Champion Savannah Marshall or 51kg Gold medallist Nicola Adams in action were deprived of seeing see their idols in competitive action on home soil. It was though a difficult year for English boxing with suspensions and possibilities of long term bans. An extraordinary general meeting in November resulted in the formation of a newly appointed executive committee and a fresh start for the new ‘England Boxing’ (previously known as the ABAE).

In Ireland, not for the first time and possibly not for the last time, Katie Taylor again took the Irish 60kg crown by virtue of a ‘walk-over’. Fact is of course that though Taylor has to-date taken an Olympic Gold, 4 World, 5 European and 5 European Union titles she has never actually won an Irish title ‘in the ring’ – not her fault as she would dearly love to have so done.

Irish fans did at least have an opportunity of seeing their Olympic Gold medallist in action since in the absence of any promotional activities on the part of the I.A.B.A , ‘Team Taylor’ themselves were left with no alternative but to arrange their own bouts in Dublin ‘s Mansion House and in Bray.

Surely a ‘Golden Opportunity’ lost by the failure of the national authorities and the AIBA to utilize the services of Adams, Taylor and Shields to showcase the women’s sport in their native countries, not mind you that the men fared much better, in England or in Ireland it must be said.

One question that must be posed is do these ‘amateur’ (if such a word can any longer be legitimately be used), organizations do enough - if anything - to promote their boxing stars in their all too short careers? Hardly surprising therefore that so many of the males turn pro but some at least it can be said that some males have had the opportunity of taking part in the WSB Series – the women have had no such option as yet nor in the foreseeable future. Perhaps an indication that the old style ‘amateur’ volunteers are in the modern world of AIBA Olympic Boxing simply “out of touch” and living on past glories. Time for a more professional approach and younger executives with athlete representatives more in tune with the needs of boxers in 2014 than in the 1990’s?

In Britain, Nicola Adams had this to say on the subject of ‘women in sport’ at a recent news conference: "In women's boxing things have changed massively," she said. "There has been a 50 per cent increase in numbers since the Olympics and it is obvious they have been inspired by the Games.

"But there is still a lot of work to be done. It is important we get more sports women on TV and in the media and if that happens then I think there is a good chance the numbers will keep increasing.
"If they are not aware of the sports they are not going to go out with any desire to try them. That's what the Olympics does, and it's what TV and the media could do as well if they show more women and put them in the sports pages."

In Ireland, despite the fact that 2013 was a very quiet year for Taylor (just a European Union Gold) though a hugely successful year for other Irish sports men and women too, the Olympic gold medallist still came top of the annual influential Pembroke Communications Sports Index (male and female) with some 25 percent of the votes cast well ahead of all others from all sports and with almost no assistance from her home boxing association. So she remains as Ireland’s most popular Sporting Personality in 2013.


Who, in your opinion, is Ireland’s greatest current sports star? (Top three with last year’s vote in brackets)

25% Katie Taylor (2012 = 53%)

15% Brian O’Driscoll (13%) Ireland’s most capped International Rugby Union star

6% AP McCoy (3%) 4000+ winners in National Hunt Racing
So women’s boxing is for sure making an impact on male and female alike in at least one country and not just in the boxing community for Taylor has developed into one of the country’s most sought after guests on TV shows that hitherto would have had not the slightest interest in boxing, male or female.

And so what does 2014 hold in store for AIBA Olympic style women’s boxing? That is an important question bearing in mind that we are in the final days of 2013.

Yes---there IS a 2014 World Elite AIBA Women's Championships on the horizon – venue and exact dates yet to be confirmed (at the time of writing) and the British trio named earlier (Adams, Jonas and Marshall) plus Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and those from Northern Ireland and the other countries that form the Commonwealth, have the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow to look forward to in late July/early August. This is the first time that women’s boxing appears – good news that. As with the Olympic Games the AIBA had no choice other than to accept three weights.

What else though? There is also the first ever appearance of women’s boxing in the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China (again three weights for women, ten for males) and that is preceded by the AIBA World Youth Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria (once more three women’s weights – ten for males). There will be the rest of the AIBA Confederations titles too, Europe included though the EUBC has again thus far not named location or exact dates for this tournament which has been postponed from October 2013 at the request of the AIBA according to EUBC sources.

The boxers themselves also appear to be very much afraid of “speaking out” publically though that applies to many males as well as female boxers – same too with their coaches. A fear factor or just lack of interest?

The response to the WBAN Petition to the I.O.C was correctly described as “disappointing” and that was being diplomatic.

How many of the 2012 Olympic Games or AIBA World Championships or Confederations medallists actually signed it?

And of those who did not, why not? Fear of their home or national association or simply not interested in doing anything to help their own cause?

As for those who have spoken out, what has been the response?

Ireland’s Taylor spoke on RTE TV in mid-September -and to ‘ the Irish Media’ about her serious disappointment at the lack of any new opportunities for women boxers such as the men already have with the existing WSB and will have in 2014 with the new APB. The AIBA quickly responded with an unusually detailed statement which included (but was not limited to) :

“We all admire Katie and recognize that any frustration she feels stems from her sincere passion for the sport,” the statement read. “However we have to disagree that the state of women’s boxing is going backwards, far from it in fact.

It added: “Our development work at grassroots levels along with the inspiration offered by boxers like Katie Taylor, Nicola Adams, Claressa Shields and others is visibly taking effect on the number of young women who are engaging with the sport.”

“For example, even as we speak, the opening day of the AIBA Women’s Junior/Youth World Boxing Championships is underway in Albena, Bulgaria. This is the second time the event has been held (it was launched in 2011 and like the men’s events it is biannual). This year we have a record of 312 Youth and Junior athletes taking part from all over the world. This shows that AIBA’s commitment to developing women’s boxing is bearing fruit”.

In an even more comprehensive statement to ‘The Irish Examiner’ the AIBA also added that that while the organization had been hoping to create a professional event for women, it would not happen in the timeframe Taylor had hoped for.

“She has had correspondence with our president Dr Ching-Kuo Wu and I was copied in on those correspondences,” the AIBA’s Director of Communications said.

“In those it said we are investigating and are interested in launching WSB for women such as the ABP (AIBA Professional Boxing), the new professional boxing programme starting next year. We also mentioned that WSB is a very young product and is still not established so it is too early to put any date on a potential start to WSB for women.

“It’s something we are evaluating on a regular basis. The market is still a little bit too young to change the WSB format but we are constantly looking for the best way to integrate women’s boxing and make it as big as the men’s are. This is why we don’t want to just jump in and launch women’s just for the sake of it.”

On the subject of Taylor’s frustrations : “She has to believe in us that we are pushing as much as we can for women’s boxing, not only for the Olympic games but we’re also very proud of having her as our ambassador for women’s boxing.”

“We also hope to see her next year at the world boxing championships. Whatever we can do to develop women’s boxing we will do, believe me, and we will keep her involved.”

The AIBA’s Communications Director went on to outline ‘the organization's disappointment at not securing more medal events at the Rio Games in 2016 and vowed to continue developing women’s boxing’.

“We have tried to defend our position as much as possible but ultimately it comes down to the number of medals the IOC (International Olympic Committee) wants to have in the Olympics and they didn’t want to increase this number. It hasn’t changed our minds though and we will come back and back and back.

“We can understand the frustration of Katie but actually our work and the dedication of boxers like her is paying off.

“At the youth and junior women’s world championships the number of participants increased by 30%. It’s a huge factor that shows due to our work and Katie and the other women boxers that we are developing women’s boxing. We’ve got to go further but that will take time unfortunately.”

Perhaps the AIBA through its excellent Communications Directorate needs to sit down ‘face to face’ with its stars like Taylor, Adams, Shields, Ochigava, Mery Kom, Mikaela Mayer and others and explain to them just how the AIBA intends to use these superb ambassadors? When frustrations arise as is inevitable surely ‘face to face’ discussions is a vastly better solution than statements via the media?

Are national associations not also seriously at fault and failing their own stars by leaving it to the boxers to try and impress upon the AIBA their frustrations? What one wonders are the local associations doing – are they not failing in their duty of care to their ‘boxers, who are putting their bodies on line in the cause of their country? Food for thought certainly.

So the AIBA firmly believes that everything is on course for a hugely successful future for women’s boxing. Is that a view shared by YOU, our readers, supporters, boxers and coaches throughout the world?
WBAN would like to hear YOUR thoughts on the hugely important subjects raised here.

1. Are the boxers doing enough to help themselves?

2. Do they fear ‘punishment’ by their local associations if they speak out? Is that fear justified based on actual experiences?

3. Do YOU accept that the AIBA could not have had another 2/3 weights included in Rio 2016 albeit at the expense of male boxers?

4. Are the IOC and by association other bodies such as the AIBA meeting their responsibilities under the Olympic Charter towards ‘equality’

5. Was it ‘unreasonable’ for women elite boxers to expect faster progress in the development of the women's sport after the hugely optimistic statements coming from Dr Wu and the AIBA at London 2012 and for months thereafter?

WBAN has one interest and one interest only and that is the promotion of women’s boxing for benefit of ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ alike.

We have no hidden agenda – but we will continue to do all in our power to ensure that women’s boxing at AIBA level is treated with the respect it deserves and in accordance with the ‘promises’ which we believe that every female boxer was led to believe would happen at a much faster rate of progress than is now the case. If the AIBA feels that it was genuinely misinterpreted so be it but is it not just possible for the AIBA to accept that perhaps some of the optimism did give boxers the real impression that progress was just around the corner?

It is inconceivable that the AIBA was misled by the I.O.C re ‘only 3 weights for Rio’. The question remains why then did the AIBA Executive not proceed to defend its own policy ‘promise’ of 5/6 weights for Rio? We cordially invite AIBA’s respected President Ching Kuo-Wu to outline at length and with no restriction on space, what the AIBA did from the moment they first became aware that there would be no more than 286 boxer places for Rio. Above all why not more weights were made available even if at the expense of another one or two male weights. Fear of a male backlash from more powerful countries where women’s boxing is in its infancy if at all acceptable?

We do appreciate that Dr Wu has tried very hard to persuade his I.O.C colleagues but truthfully was there still not the golden opportunity to make good the promises made following that Golden Summer of 2012? We await with interest the AIBA’s response early in the New Year but meantime let the I.O.C and the A.I.B.A accept that WBAN will continue to fight the cause for not only must justice be done but justice must be seen to be done if the AIBA is not to be seen as a predominantly male dominated organization whereby influential factions in some countries can apply pressure on the AIBA Executive to let the status quo continue.

Equality, true equality means hard decisions must be taken and promises delivered – and soon. For the boxing community will judge by the speed of future progress . As the old saying goes : “Action speaks louder than words”. WBAN has faith in the AIBA and Dr Wu – to deliver. And sooner rather than later.

Sue TL Fox  /  Michael O’Neill

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