It’s official and it’s about time.
On Aug 13, the International Olympic Committee finally approved women’s boxing as an Olympic sport. Up until then, amateur boxing was the only sport in the Summer Olympics that did not include women. For the first time in history men and women will be represented in all 26 sport categories.
There are approximately 500,000 licensed female boxers across 120 countries so you can imagine the number of women boxers gearing up at their chance to compete for the gold. Having witnessed the caliber of boxing talent at the last two world women championships this upcoming Olympics will prove to everyone how much they deserve to be there.
It was decided that 12 women boxers will be competing in the three following weight divisions: flyweight (48kg-51kg), lightweight (56kg-60kg) and middleweight (69kg-75kg).
The recent addition of women required removing one of the men’s weight categories because the IOC set a quota of 286 boxers at the upcoming Games in London. The men will have 10 weight categories (instead of 11) and a total of 250 boxers compared to the women who will have 36 boxers competing in 3 weight categories.
This is bad news for all the women in the excluded weight categories who won’t get their chance at the Olympics. In this article American boxing coach Ann Wolfe said: “You might have the best boxer in the world at 140 pounds, and she won’t make it because of her weight….I’d rather (the IOC) leave us out altogether than do it this way.”
Despite being a huge step in the right direction, the significant discrepancy between the number of men and women competitors proves the sport is not even close to being equal to both genders.
Boxing first appeared in the Olympics in 1904, so why has it taken this long for women to be included? It depends who you ask. The IOC rejected women’s boxing in the 2008 Olympics “over concerns about medical safety and low participation worldwide. ” But the majority of boxers, coaches and boxing officials we interviewed during the making of the film felt it was blatant discrimination.
What surprises me are the boxers and boxing coaches who flat out disagree with the decision. If anyone should understand these women’s passion for the sport it’s them.
Take a listen to Amir Khan, a boxing champion from the U.K. give his reasons why women’s boxing shouldn’t be in the Olympics.
Then there’s Cuba, a country renowned for its boxers declaring they will not be sending a women’s team to the Olympics because the President of the Cuban Boxing Federation, Jose Barrentos, believes “the sport is inappropriate for women.”
One of Cuba’s head coaches, Pedro Roque stated: “Cuban women should be showing off their beautiful faces, not getting punched in the face.”
It is unfortunate for the women that are still being shut out of the Olympics either by the lack of support from their own country or from the misfortune of being in the wrong weight class.
The boxers in our film often told us how much it would mean to compete at the Olympics. We watched the entire team crowd around the one TV set in their non-air-conditioned hostel to watch India box at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. There was so much discussion around if and when they would finally get their chance.
India has one of the lowest number of Olympic medals per capita in the world and only won its first individual gold in 2008. But when someone from the country does win a medal they are hailed, splashed all over the media, famous overnight and the country bursts with pride. Vijender Kumar, the only boxer to win a medal in Beijing, was a household name in India that summer.
An Olympic medal would bring a level of publicity and recognition these women could never have imagined in their lifetime.
The Indian team have proven themselves as a force to be reckon with at international competitions and have a serious chance at winning medals for their country.
But is a medal enough? I raise the question because I only recently learned of Karnam Malleswari. Who is Karnam Malleswari? She is the first woman in Indian history to win an Olympic medal. And no, she is not a household name.
Malleswari won the bronze in weightlifting at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Her medal has not brought women’s weightlifting to the forefront of sports in India and no one we encountered during out production period even mentioned her name.
It’s safe to assume weightlifting is considered as unfit for an Indian woman as boxing and no doubt suffers the same struggles, lack of media attention and sponsorship opportunities.
I know it will take time before discrimination towards women boxers is completely eliminated. But I hope things have changed enough that the success of an Olympic medal and the remarkable talents of boxers like Mary Kom can no longer be ignored.