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World Welterweight Champion, Mary Spencer hits a bag during a training session at the Windsor Amateur Boxing Club in Windsor, Ontario, May 6, 2010. GEOFF ROBINS The Globe and Mail (GEOFF ROBINS)
World Welterweight Champion, Mary Spencer hits a bag during a training session at the Windsor Amateur Boxing Club in Windsor, Ontario, May 6, 2010. GEOFF ROBINS The Globe and Mail (GEOFF ROBINS)

JAMES CHRISTIE

Female Boxers: Sex objects or athletes? Add to ...

After the long fight to get into the Olympic boxing ring next summer, women are still battling – not to be seen as sex objects.

Boxing’s governing body, the AIBA (an acronym for the International Boxing Association), will decide at a meeting of its technical and rules committees next January whether to recommend that AIBA executives make it mandatory that the 36 women in three weight classes fight at the Olympics in skirts or traditional boxing trunks.

It’s the latest controversy affecting women as they break into the male-oriented world of sport.

The national governing body, Boxing Canada, is opposed to making skirts mandatory for female boxers in the ring. Boxing Canada executive director Robert Crete says an athlete “should have an option” in what he or she wears.

“It’s interesting that they’re assigning a dress code for women and not men and women together,” said Karin Lofstrom, executive director of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport and Physical Activity. She agreed that a choice of garment should be optional.

“I thought we learned that lesson in sports like badminton,” she said. The governing body of the racquet sport last spring suggested a dress code that called for women to play in skirts. It quickly pulled back the proposed regulation “for further study” after the British sport minister criticized the move as “aggressive and damaging.”

Sepp Blatter, president of soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, came under fire for his 2004 suggestion that women wear tighter uniforms to promote “a more female aesthetic. … Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball,” he said.

Volleyball’s international governing body, FIVB, mandated skimpy uniforms for women at the 1998 world indoor championship, saying that the clingy suits added “profile” to the women’s game. The FIVB went so far as to send out fashion police and hit seven women’s teams with $3,000 (U.S.) fines for refusing to wear the high-cut body suits. (Cash-poor Cuba complied with the FIVB ruling and was handed $10,000 for being the “best dressed” team.)

“If they’re trying to promote women in sport around the world … it speaks to having more women around the table involved in the discussion,” Lofstrom said.

Those who oppose women boxing in skirts say the AIBA is pandering to sexists in trying to introduce a feminine image to the blood sport.

A petition on the website change.org says there are “misogynistic implications” to making skirts mandatory. “Female boxers should no more be forced into a skirt than a male boxer should have a jacket and tie required,” the accompanying letter says.

“It would be like making it a sideshow,” Australian boxing coach Charlie Coumi said on adelaidenow.com.au. “People shouldn’t be there to watch their arse, they should be there to watch their gloves.”

Canada’s gold-medal hope in the ring, three-time world champion Mary Spencer of Wiarton, Ont., is ambivalent. She has won world crowns in both types of garment. Both Spencer and her opponent boxed in skirts at last year’s world championship.

Spencer found the skirt – which is not revealing because a boxer wears tights under the skirt – to be more comfortable than boxing trunks, “surprisingly so. I didn’t expect them to be,” Spencer said.

“It can be a shorter or longer skirt,” said Crete, of Boxing Canada. “They’re already available, and some of our female athletes have tried them. They have no objections, but it should be optional.” He said Boxing Canada’s president, Pat Fiacco, would make that clear in the AIBA discussion.

AIBA president Ching-Kuo Wu said he was told that women wearing uniforms and headgear similar to that of men weren’t standing out as distinct in competitions. Skirts are a bid to do that.

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