Equality for Female Boxers in the Olympics

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Katie Taylor elicits apology from WBO Pro challenger Billy Joe Saunders after his outrageous anti-female outburst
by Michael O'Neill / Sue Fox
July 30, 2015
Photo: AIBA

(JULY 30)  English Boxer Billy Joe Saunders hit the headlines in Britain and Ireland last week with an outrageous statement on women who box with these weasel words on iFL TV :

“I think women are there for sex every night; hard sex. Cleaning, cooking, washing, and sex. They’re not there to put on headgear and get punched. That’s my opinion on women, but I’m just a sex maniac.”

Saunders is the current British, European and Commonwealth Middleweight champion and is the WBO’s mandatory challenger and due to fight Andy Lee at Thomond Park on September 19th for the World Boxing Organisation’s world Middleweight crown. He is guaranteed an ‘exceptionally’ warm welcome in Limerick now, that’s for sure. Neither Saunders nor the Promoter Frank Warren seemed keen on a suggestion that Katie Taylor might (subject to AIBA approval) be added to that bill.

There followed an exchange of views both private and via Twitter with AIBA Olympic Gold medallist - and 5 times world champion - Katie Taylor who made plain her disgust at his remarks about women in general and not just on their ability to box.

“I feel sorry for his wife and daughter if that's his only view of women”.
— Katie Taylor (@KatieTaylor)

Video of Interview of Bill Joe Saunders

Clearly he was unprepared for the outrage that followed from males and females alike with the overwhelming majority against him.

Andy Lee said: “It was an immature and foolish comment that he made publicly. I will make sure he feels immature and foolish on fight night. I urge all the women who have been offended by him to sit back and enjoy the painful lesson I will give him on your behalf.” Lee in fact was like Taylor an Irish Olympic boxing star in his amateur days and a friend of the Bray woman.

Comments came quick and fast. In the ‘Examiner’ Conor Hicks gave this advice to the Olympic champion : “You should just offer him a charity match and punch him into a coma, Katie.”

‘BrayGuy’ tweeted a more restrained but equally threatening : “Tell him to come out to Bray and say that.”

On website 42.ie and indeed on several websites, boxing forums and on radio as well as via Twitter, further and not dissimilar recommendations and words of wisdom followed.

These included : “He’s a clown” “IQ of a rocking horse !!” “Funny how a ‘woman’ has achieved so much more than he ever will in the world of sport!”

Dublin North councillor Janice Boylan made clear her view of Saunders: “His remarks and comments where highly offensive to women. Katie Taylor was right for voicing her disgust at said comments and I agree strongly with her.

To suggest he made the comments because of his background is exactly why we shouldn’t tolerate them in the first place. Women are not sex objects, second class citizens, or less than men.

We are so much more than homemakers, yes we cook, clean and have sex so what, we also box professionally, serve our country, participate in other world class sports, run countries, make great politicians, save lives, create life and so much much more. There was no excuse for his brutish comments and there can be no tolerance for them”.

A reminder that as we reported here last week, just before Saunders ill-timed intervention, there had been a request to the AIBA to agree to Taylor appearing on that Pro-Am bill though as at the time of writing that august body has not yet said YES or NO ; there are many sound reasons as to why they should approve not least of them being that it is extremely rare for any AIBA boxer, male or female, to be fighting in front of a 33,000 crowd, save for an Olympic Games.

With likely millions more viewing on TV and/or Live streaming in Europe perhaps worldwide, it is a “win-win” proposal that the AIBA should not dismiss.

It would also allow the watching audience in Limerick and elsewhere to see just how talented women boxers are and who better to ‘advertise’ that expertise than Taylor.

In the widely read ‘Cork Evening Echo’ Mary Crilly, Director at Sexual Violence Centre Cork called Saunders “offensive and arrogant”, agreeing with Taylor’s point.

“What needs to be said is if he is speaking like this about one woman then he is speaking about all women- his mother, his partner, daughter, nieces.

“Whatever people think about boxing, for women like Katie Taylor who have worked so hard to get where they are to be dismissed like this is disgusting.”

Ms. Crilly went on to say that whilst Saunders’ comments are shocking she positively encouraged dialogue on the issue.

“People might be shocked that these attitudes are out there and what’s more is he feels that he has the right to speak about them.

“I don’t think he is going to rock the world with these comments but he is showing his true colours and people will see him in that light and it has people speaking about sexism which is alive and well.”

Cork boxer, and like Taylor a member of Team Ireland in International competition, was equally dismissive of his remarks.

Christina, from Macroom who at 19 years of age is a Team Ireland European medallist said that she felt the need to speak out having seen the video shared on Facebook by friends in the boxing world. She has also represented her country at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing last year.

“It’s frustrating and I think it’s a shame that a fighter of his standing thinks that he can say what he wants.

“I decided to speak out because it has to be done. You can’t say things like that.”

Christina added that she is no stranger to sexist comments but that they still get her down.

“I started boxing for fitness and then got into it seriously.

“When you hear comments like this it really knocks you back a step. I’ve experienced sexism though it’s gotten better as I’ve grown older. I’ve been told that women shouldn’t box or don’t belong in sport.

“I know that boxing is a male dominated world but comments like his are degrading not only for women in boxing but for all women.

So how has Saunders responded? Clearly he was shocked at the response, and within 24 hours of Taylor’s intervention whilst on holiday, he had given yet another interview to iFL TV and You Tube channel:

“About all this Twitter stuff I keep getting – all this bad stuff saying what I’ve said about women – it’s only a joke”, he began.

Saunders issues public apology over women's remarks

Listen, Katie Taylor is a very, very good fighter. She’s done what she’s done. Nicola Adams and all that. I’ve got the highest respect for them. I’m not saying women shouldn’t box – it’s their choice. They’ve won gold medals when I’ve got beat in the second round of the Olympics – they’re Olympic champions. I just want to clear that up. I reckon they’re very good to the sport.”

“We’ve got to get men off the street and young boys off the street the same way we have to get young girls off the street. They’re showing that side of it. I don’t want to be painted as a man who thinks women are there for cooking and sex – even though they’re still good at it.”

“If people know me, they know what sort of character I am. I say things. If I can help anyone I will and I’m not one of those people that goes around taking the piss – ‘let’s have a laugh’, ‘have a banter’. I do my job and the fans like it. But I’m sorry if I’ve upset anybody and I apologise but that’s all I can do.”

“I apologise. If anybody’s offended by that, I’m sorry. When you see me, just come give me a cuddle and I’ll cuddle you back.”

Is it not the case that boxers worldwide and not just those in countries like Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and India, have had to put up with such abuse? And what of boxing powerhouses Cuba which still does not even allow any form of women’s boxing be it ‘amateur’ or ‘professional’? If you live in any of these countries your view is particularly welcome.

Back in April this year, the AIBA’s President C.K. Wu signed a ‘memorandum of understanding with Cuba.

“Signing this memorandum with the Cuban Boxing Federation is a significant step in AIBA’s history, and it highlights our commitment to supporting the very best boxing talent in the world. We are very grateful for the trust and commitment shown by FCB toward our organization.”

President of Cuba Boxing Federation Mr. Alberto Puig de la Barca also expressed his delight at the signing of the memorandum. “Today is an important day for the development of Cuban boxing and I am happy to be a part of this historic event for our sport. This agreement will ensure that Cuban boxing continues to grow and prosper all over the world,” he said.

So will AIBA President Dr. C.K. Wu now be putting immediate pressure on his Cuban counterpart to allow women in Cuba to take part in competition?

Can we now expect to see Cuban women in Tokyo 2020 if not in Rio 2016?

At the recent American Boxing Confederation championships in Toronto, leading Canadian boxer and Gold medallist Mandy Bujold said: “I actually asked one of the Cuban coaches that question and his response was that they want to protect their women, they don’t feel there’s enough protection with what we wear when we’re in the ring,” he told her.

Canadian coach Adrian Teodorescu posed a similar question to Cuban coach, Alcides Sagarra, the best coach in the world, and he said it’s not a sport for woman. And I know he was always against it., the ‘Toronto Sun’ reported last week: and again :“In Cuba, it’s forbidden,” Cuban boxing official Alejandro Martinez said through an interpreter on Monday. “Maybe now that they’re opening Cuba, maybe they will open the sport to women. But the political people in Cuba ... boxing female? Not yet. But maybe (starting) this year.”

Bujold is hoping that the Cubans will eventually encourage their girls to get in the boxing ring and they’ll start entering fighters in international competitions.

“I don’t even think they let them in the gyms,” Bujold said. “It’s odd. But it would be cool to see what they would come out with. We always used to think that they were kind of hiding a team and then one would just show up all of a sudden and kick everybody’s butt, but it hasn’t happened.”

WBAN has regularly hit out at this type of comment over many years though of course it applies to many sports and not just boxing. The sexualisation / discrimination of women in sport is equally bad in tennis for example, lots of other sports too.  If any of you have a similar story to share, forward it to WBAN at wban100@aol.com.

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