“It’s beyond a joke” – Irish women boxers discuss Olympic sexism

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250 male boxers competed at the recent Rio Olympic across ten weight categories. By comparison, just 36 women competed in Brazil across a meagre three weight classes.

While the inclusion of women’s boxing from 2012 onwards was a great leap for the sport, much, much more still needs to be done.

Currently just three weights [flyweight (51kg), lightweight (60kg), and middleweight (75kg)] are available to women at the Olympics, with just 12 slots in each class.

Compared to other combat sports and martial arts at the Games, boxing lags far behind. Judo had seven classes for both men and women, with the split in participants a more equitable 238 to 151. Freestyle wrestling sees six categories each and a near negligible gender split of 119 to 114. Taekwondo leads the way and is completely split down the middle with four categories each and 64 participants from each gender.

Arguments put forward by the International Boxing Association and the International Olympic Committee of thinner talent pools or a need to restrict numbers ring hollow – especially considering the use of tripatriate entries and the enforcement of geographical quotas. Not only is the current system blatantly unfair and against the Olympic ideal of promoting women in sport, it is disrespectful of the levels of talent in women’s boxing.

Even away from the obvious, and more important, gender equality failings, for a country with so much boxing talent such as Ireland, the current structure of the Olympics has most likely denied us medals over the years. If women’s boxing was included for the 2008 Olympics, would Katie Taylor have stormed to gold? If light welterweight was included in Rio, would World Championships silver medalist Kelly Harrington been among the medals again?

It is somewhat encouraging to see AIBA President Dr Ching-Kuo Wu state his desired to add light welterweight and welterweight for women at the Tokyo 2020 Games, but nothing has been confirmed and it would still not be enough.

Naturally, those affected by the Olympic restrictions feel very strongly about the issue, and Irish-Boxing.com spoke to some of the members of the squad for this week’s European Championships (where all ten weights are catered for) about what can only be described as structural sexism at the World’s biggest sporting event.

Lauren Hogan – Light Flyweight (48kg)
Three weight classes for woman is a joke! There is a huge difference between all the weight. If you box at 57kg, and your dream is the Olympics, you’re having to decide ‘will I cut 6kg or build 3kg?’ and meet woman who are coming down from 64/65kg with a lot more strength behind them. Why women can’t get what the men have in this day and age is beyond me. For me I walk around a lot heavier than my fighting weight, generally nearly three weight classes heavier, so 51kg will suit me – whereas if you’re a light 48kg you’re having to try build an awful lot of muscle mass to be in the Olympic weight. 3kg might not seem too much to build, but some 48kg woman are light and walk around lighter than that so they have to build more than 3kg and you’re getting in with woman who are naturally heavier and stronger.

Because 48kg is not an Olympic weight, it is not funded, so trying to earn an income and train full-time six days a week, twice a day, is stressful and it’s near impossible to hold down a job. Your could box 48kg for the rest of your time in the sport and not get paid a penny because it is not an Olympic weight for women. It’s beyond a joke, we train as hard as all the other weight categories but get no funding for it.

Dervla Duffy – Bantamweight (54kg)
I was at the Olympic Female Boxing Finals in London 2012 and with female boxing being so successful I was sure they would have introduced more women’s weights for Rio, but unfortunately they didn’t. Instead I focused on my training for major tournaments etc and tried not get too bogged down in the politics of the sport.

Gráinne Walsh – Welterweight (69kg)
Obviously I feel very strongly about the whole Olympic weight categories for women. It’s totally unfair on us. But I’m hopeful of an additional two weights for Tokyo 2020. I am a small 69kg boxer, I used to box at 64kg. A move up to 75kg is definitely out of the question for me.

Christina Desmond – Middleweight (75kg)
I believe the IOC would want to look over the weight categories for the women as it is unfair and sexist to have only three weights. The women deserve to be comfortable at the weight they fight at and that’s not how I’ve felt over the past year. The IOC and the AIBA need to start treating us as equals to the men as we train and put in the same, if not more, hours.

*Desmond moved up to middleweight towards the end of 2015 with the sole purpose of chasing Olympic qualification

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie