Equality for Female Boxers in the Olympics

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An invitation to AIBA President Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu to outline his plans for the future of women's boxing
By Sue TL Fox and Michael O’Neill
March 25, 2015

(MAR 25)  Today, 500 days from Rio 2016, WBAN would like to offer an ‘open’ invitation to AIBA President Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu to outline for us the AIBA’s plans for women’s boxing in the period between now and 2020.

Over the past several years, WBAN has devoted extensive coverage of AIBA tournaments, large and small, in the same way we have covered the Pro.sport. Both ‘Amateurs’ and Pros’ alike share common aims. Each has a significant role to play in the ‘boxing of the future’ thus anything that can be done to assist must surely be welcomed by all existing Professional bodies and by the AIBA.

WE do NOT believe that enough is being done at this time particularly in the areas of ‘health and safety’ of the boxing community and if it is then communication of such plans leave much to be desired.

It is OUR firm belief, that Dr. Wu and his team, will take this opportunity of using WBAN’s vast database of readers including several hundred boxers and coaches to address some of the issues raised with us over the past 12 months or so. We have praised the AIBA whenever and wherever praise was due, equally without fear or favour we have disagreed when we felt it necessary to disagree.

We may not always agree with our AIBA friends but we feel sure they appreciate that it is good to ‘share views’ and we know from our ‘mailbag’, inc emails and social media that many claim not to be fully briefed on AIBA future plans, especially by their own National Federations or even via AIBA’s own in house AIBA News letters.

The feeling conveyed to us, seems to be that women’s boxing is now ‘way down’ the list of AIBA priorities, certainly behind AIBA ProBoxing, APB and WSB. Any analysis of the ‘boxing coverage’ in media worldwide will rarely find mention of AIBA women’s boxing apart from World championships and even the organisations national federations seem reluctant to publicise even in their own countries achievements of their women. Of course there are some notable exceptions such as United States, Canada, Ireland and Australia and from time to time England.

One of the points often raised by boxers, and not just, women is that in their view the AIBA has ‘lost its way’ in the period since London 2012 when the genial President Wu seemed convinced that there would be at least five weights for women by Rio 2016 yet here we are in March 2015, with just 500 days to go to Rio and still there are but three weights for women. To put it mildly – ‘VERY disappointing’. Progress? Hardly.

We still fail to understand why Rio 2016 does not have at least five weights. Many in the ‘amateur’ sport believe that can be traced back to the time when the AIBA President was ‘otherwise engaged’ in his quest to become successor to then I.O.C President, Dr.Jacques Rogge and that with their ‘Chief’ travelling round the AIBA family to seek support, his back up team ‘lost their way’ in fighting the cause for women's boxing. Could that be true?

We look forward to Dr. Wu’s assurances that AIBA women’s boxing will now take its rightful place in their list of ‘priorities’ between now and 2020 indeed beyond but 2020 would be a good time to review ‘progress’ again.

After all anything less than five or six weights in Tokyo 2020 would seriously damage the legacy of Dr.Wu who has done so much good during his terms of office particularly on ‘doping’ and ‘corruption’. Before he ‘passes on the baton’ to his successor surely he cannot want to leave the Presidency knowing that his ‘promises’ from London 2012 on the women’s sport remain unfulfilled?

Remember what you said after the women’s finals in London, Dr.Wu?

"It was a very proud moment for me to see women's boxing at the Olympics," Wu told ‘Inside the Games’ with genuine warmth in his voice.

"They surprised everyone with their talent and the spectators were fully behind them which was one of the most pleasing things for me, even though that it what I predicted would happen."

A ‘same day interview’ with BBC in UK again brought further praise for the women from Dr.Wu:

He said of the women's weight divisions: "Three is certainly not enough.

"We have 10 categories for men, so why only three for women?"

And he added: "It is because of the International Olympic Committee's quota. They have a limit of 10,600 athletes in total, and just 286 boxers.

"So we reduced the men's categories by one to make room for 36 women. It is a step in the right direction.

"AIBA is trying its best. Talk to the IOC!"

Well as a member himself of the I.O.C Executive he has had much time since London 2012 to ‘talk’ to the I.O.C but seemingly with no good outcome for women boxers. Can it be that the REAL opposition to women’s weights in Rio being increased has NOT come from the I.O.C but within his own AIBA ranks?

There remains on overwhelmingly male representation in the most powerful committees of the AIBA and in our humble opinion it is more than likely that it is a major contributory factor for some countries women are not seen as equals.

That must be another worry for both IOC and AIBA bearing in mind that “equality” is one of the fundamental principles of the Olympic Movement including the Olympic Charter. Is the ‘women’s commission’ little more than a talking shop one asks? What REAL authority do they have on the subject of the future of women’s boxing? How many women members are there of the FULL AIBA Executive council?

London 2012 was a huge success for the vast majority of sports as Director of The Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) director Andrew Ryan, the man primarily responsible for distributing the profits to the 26 sports federations involved in London 2012, confirmed to ‘Inside the Games’ that they would be sharing a pot of over $450 million (£280 million/€345 million)

When the London 2012 final accounts became known the figure, he said, could even approach as much as $475 million (£296 million/€365 million), which marks a dramatic increase on the $296 million (£184 million/€227 million) they received from Beijing 2008.

Taking everything into account, there were few bigger winners at London 2012 than boxing. So perhaps Dr. Wu could tell us how that money has been distributed within the sport and what proportion has been ‘used’ to promote women’s boxing?

Has any money been spent directly by the AIBA or has it been sent to their national associations and if the latter what does the AIBA do to ensure that a fair proportion goes towards increasing the profile for the women’s sport.

Many of our correspondents regularly say their voice is NOT being heard even in their own country let alone within the AIBA. If true, how very sad.

We expect some progress to be made in 2015/16 regarding inclusion of women’s WSB bouts albeit perhaps only exhibition bouts in year one and possibly for as few as two weights. Again can Dr.Wu elaborate on that subject and perhaps explain why women’s exhibition bouts at least could not have already taken place in season V of the WSB series?

What better way to promote the women’s sport than by having top world champion boxers like, Nicola Adams, Katie Taylor, Claressa Shields and Mary Kom demonstrate their skills in front of audiences in say China, Russia, Cuba, Kazakhstan and some of the Gulf States? Again it seems that little, if any, thought has been given to such promotional activities.

One MAY argue that women’s boxing is already strong in Russia and China (as indeed is the case) but the feedback that we get suggests that women are not receiving a fair deal even from within their own associations or in Cuba whilst in some of the Gulf States and even parts of India, women boxers are more or less shunned by society as well as by sporting authorities.

Other areas that cause concern for readers include “headgear or no headgear” for ALL women? If the latter why ANY difference between males and females? If the AIBA has got convincing medical evidence that justifies ‘ no headgear’ then why not publish it for the benefit of all of the boxing community? If that evidence is there does not the association owe it to its members to make them fully aware of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’?

WBAN accepts that opinions differ even within the boxing family as to whether the sport is safe whether ‘with or without’ headgear. It is also the case of course that several medical professionals strongly disagree on these subjects another reason perhaps for the AIBA to take a lead and publish their evidence for the benefit of one and all.

Many take issue with the original findings of Dr. Charles Butler back in 2009 but the sport has moved on since then and AIBA now says it has more detailed medical information – again the question – why not publish it? Surely if the AIBA research and evidence IS there, the wider world should be made aware of it and join in praise for their efforts.? It would certainly help re-assure boxers, their families and their coaches.

We understand that the Olympic Medical Commission (OMC) have also been studying the continued use of safety headgear in the Olympics. There many hundreds, perhaps thousands of coaches within the U.S., Canada, Europe & other Continents not to mention the Association of Ringside Physicians , The Brain Injury Institute of America, the British Medical Association as well as news organisations worldwide who keenly await the Olympic Medical Commissions findings. It is ‘unthinkable’ that the AIBA as the IOC’s National Governing Body for boxing is unaware of these discussions and findings, another good reason to publish same.

Has in fact the AIBA approved the removal of headgear, and has the Olympic Boxing Committee approved this or is the decision still pending?

A comment made is “The AIBA opted to remove headgear in elite men's bouts in 2014 based on medical statistics suggesting the protective padding can cause more jarring to boxers' heads and contribute to brain damage”. Many coaches in particular take issue with AIBA regarding this decision and their use of research, so would welcome guidance from the O.M.C and AIBA on future plans. WBAN holds no particular corporate view on these subjects thus we think that we are THE ideal publication for Dr.Wu and through his good offices, if possible, the O.M.C to make their views – and future plans – known.

There are of course ‘rumours’ that men will not have to wear protective headgear in ANY competition from early 2016 and women from ‘sometime’ thereafter. Is that so Dr. Wu and if yes why should women have to wait a longer period?

Might not that not be putting female boxers at greater risk than their male counterparts? We also ask specifically which category of AIBA tournaments would that apply to? And which age group(s)? World and Confederation titles only, National championships, and/or the I.O.C-controlled Olympic Games and what about women in WSB and hopefully eventually APB? IF indeed headgear for women is to be removed will it be from a fixed date for ALL women? Surely not even in local club tournaments organised by their home associations?

Dr. Wu did speak back in November at the AIBA Congress in Jeju prior to the women’s world championships. Reuters news agency quoted him as saying

that the 2014 Commonwealth and Asian Games had shown the AIBA's decision (re headgear removal) had been the right one.

"Commonwealth Games? No concussions. Asian Games? No concussions," Wu told Reuters.

The decision was taken ‘based on extensive research by the association's own medical commission’ as well as ‘six independent organisations’, the Taiwanese official added.

"The conclusion was that concussions dropped to almost zero without the headguard," said Wu, adding that the research included data compiled from more than 30,000 bouts.

"People felt that wearing headgear makes everything safe, so why were there more concussions?

"The problem was that it led to boxers not thinking to protect their heads, so when they were defending they didn't care so much about getting hit in the head.

"By removing headgear, it has changed the way boxers and coaches prepare, it has changed tactics. Now you have to defend better, use good techniques to protect your head."

Who were those ‘six independent organisations’ we wonder and where can we find their conclusions? We would welcome receiving a copy from AIBA.

So a lot of interesting, some provocative thoughts here but ones which we are ‘quietly confident’ will allow the AIBA to put its view at length – we place ‘no restriction’ re number of words or length of any reply – but it goes without saying that we – and more importantly – the boxing community especially AIBA members will be ‘VERY disappointed’ if Dr. Wu and his communications team choose to remain silent on these ‘burning issues’.

WBAN, like AIBA and Dr.Wu we feel sure, remain passionate about improving the sport, especially safety of boxers, and that surely is a ‘common cause’ that we can ALL agree on.

One final question Dr Wu. Can you assure ‘female warriors’ that the subject of ‘skirts is not being re-considered’ yet again and that it will remain the choice of individuals, without pressure from their home association to either wear a skirt or shorts but THEIR choice. Many suggest that even now in their home countries often within former Eastern European states they are not being given a ‘free choice’

Over to you Dr. Wu! We await your views with great interest and more importantly so too do boxers and their families.

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