Celebrating Irish Boxing’s ‘duh?’ approach to Female Fighting


Ask any Irish boxing fan what clashes they are looking forward to watching come National Elite Finals night tomorrow and Christina Desmond v Gráinne Walsh will be very near the top of their list.

Others will point out that the clash between Carly McNaul and Niamh Earley is another great fight, and comes to mind as naturally and as genuinely as any of the male deciders.

At a time when the coverage, support, and respect for women in Irish sport on a wider scale is being questioned and challenged, it’s a massive tribute to boxing, the boxing family, and indeed the boxing fan, that women’s amateur boxing is as respected as much as the male side.

The most beautiful thing about it, though, is that the majority in boxing don’t understand why they deserve tributes or praise.

When picking the fighters they look forward to seeing in ring action the boxing fraternity’s preference come down to skill, ability, heart and the particular qualities the individual fan admires in a puncher.

Sex is never a determining factor, Gráinne Walsh was the star of last year’s competition. Indeed, so ignorant is the boxing fan to sex, that the fact females are put on the same pedestal as their male counterparts is nothing special to them – it’s a given.

Imagine the Women’s FA Cup final being as equally anticipated as the male final or the All-Ireland camogie final being as big as the hirling. Boxing, which is often vilified for getting so much wrong, has gotten this right.

It’s not something that’s been grandfathered in either, with the Women’s Elites only starting in 2010 and their incorporation into the ‘main’ night only came in 2017.

Such is the parity of respect, anticipation, and excitement, particularly on a domestic level in boxing in this country, that you’d expect other sports to contact the powers that be in the IABA for a crash course in how such a state of affairs was achieved.

However, the fact there has been no master plan is the impressive (or maybe expected) thing.

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Kelly Harrington features tomorrow in an international contest and it’s an obvious, logical, move.

She is the world champion, success matters, not sex.

63% of major medals won by Irish fighters in 2018, across all age groups, came from females but this stat has never been mentioned.

The men’s and women’s European competitions at Junior and Youth level have now been brought together, while Schoolgirls and U22 competitions have been added and are also run concurrently with their male equivalents – and it’s all been met with an ‘of course’ rather than an ‘oh wow’.

When there were just three Olympic weights for women it was widely decried. When two more were added – and two therefore taken from the men – there were no battle lines drawn. Indeed, while it was not ideal, most argue there should still be more Olympic spots for women.

Like sex workers and escorts in Ireland women in this kind of sports are really fighting and getting equality every day. In boxing they must hurry to achieve it too. Equality is a must.

Coverage of Irish boxing from the small circle of journalists here is so down the middle that campaigns such as 20×20 are not necessary.

The IABA and Sport Ireland have invested big money into women in boxing but there is no till-counting done, no egalitarian plan to promote the female side of the game, and no hard-nosed medal-identification approach taken.

It genuinely appears that the lack of sexism in terms of support and respect comes down to fight fans love of a good fighter regardless of background, religion, race or sex.

It’s something boxing in Ireland is a leader in alongside the likes of athletics.

The fight game has always been adamant religion doesn’t matter, something which was particularly prevalent during The Troubles, in no other sport has the Travelling Community been so welcome, valued or successful, and now we find women on par with the men.

If you’re brave enough to enter the ring you get respect and, if you can fight, you get the praise you deserve.

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Jonny Stapleton

Irish-boxing.com contributor for 15 years and editor for the past decade. Have been covering boxing for over 16 years and writing about sport for a living for 19 years. Former Assistant Sports editor for the Gazette News Paper Group and former Tallaght Voice Sports Editor. Have had work published in publications around the world when working as a freelance journalist. Also co-founder of Junior Sports Media and Leinster Rugby PRO of the Year winner. email: editoririshboxing@gmail.com