Column: Do skirts make an Olympic boxer?

November 20, 2011 - 6:35 PM

The people running Olympic boxing claim they're not crooks, despite allegations made in a BBC television program that $9 million was paid by Azerbaijan to make sure the former Soviet republic wins two gold medals at the Olympics next year in London.

Charge them with being sexist, though, and they have no choice but to plead guilty.

There's really no other way to explain proposals by the International Amateur Boxing Association to make sure women competing in Olympic boxing for the first time in London get their fair share of attention.

They want them to wear skirts.

Better yet, they would like them to be miniskirts.

The official line is that skirts will make it easier for the casual Olympic boxing fan to tell female boxers apart from the men. Imagine the confusion, after all, if someone on their living room couch believes they are watching Daniel fight for a gold medal when who they're really seeing is Danielle.

The real reason is probably more like they're a bunch of doddering old men whose ideas about women in sports are even more dated than they are. The kind who believe a woman's place in the ring is in high heels and bikinis holding a round card over her head.

The kind of men who probably nodded their heads in unison when international soccer chief Seth Blatter suggested a few years back that women soccer players should also play dress up for their matches.

"Let's get women to play in different and more feminine garb than the men. ... in tighter shorts for example," Blatter said.

To be fair, amateur boxing regulators probably didn't come up with the concept of skirts on their own. They're not that smart, as the mismanagement of the sport over the years and regular claims of bribery suggest.

Indeed, the same idea was floated by the Badminton World Federation, which ditched it earlier this year only after being bombarded with fierce opposition from both players and women's rights groups.

Odds are that AIBA officials also will have to backtrack in January when they meet to make final recommendations on apparel for the London Olympics. Until then, skirts are still in play.

Boxers from Romania and Poland have already competed in them, and there's a chance they could be worn by some boxers this week in an Olympic test event in London. The sentiment among most female boxers, though, seems to be strongly anti-skirt.

"I won't be wearing a miniskirt," Katie Taylor, Ireland's three-time world champion, told the BBC last month. "I don't even wear miniskirts on a night out, so I definitely won't be wearing miniskirts in the ring."

Neither should any other female boxer. They work too hard, sacrifice too much and are rewarded too little to be expected to give up boxing trunks for miniskirts.

That it would even come to this is a sad reflection on amateur boxing, which was once one of the premier events at the Olympics. Boxers like Sugar Ray Leonard and Michael and Leon Spinks were Olympic stars in Montreal in 1976, and the 1984 Olympics sported a list of medalists that included Evander Holyfield and Pernell Whitaker, among others.

Then Roy Jones Jr. had his Olympic gold snatched from him in South Korea in an outright robbery in 1988, and the sport hasn't been the same since. Boxing barely survived efforts to remove it from the Olympics after Athens in 2004, and it was only when the previous regime was booted out that Olympic officials restored funding to the sport in 2007.

For years, female boxers fought just to get in the Olympics, where their sport was the only one that was men only. Finally, the International Olympic Committee voted in 2009 to correct the oversight and allow women to compete.

My guess is that IOC delegates didn't vote that way just so they could see them fighting in skirts.

Hopefully, amateur boxing officials understand that, to have any hope of surviving, the sport needs more eyeballs. Having women fight for medals will do just that, exposing Olympic boxing to new audiences around the world.

Take a look around the Olympic landscape and you'll see plenty of women celebrated for what they do, not what they look like. The playing field is still far from even for women — in boxing they will compete for three gold medals while men will fight for 10 golds — but it is light years from the 1920s when female swimmers were allowed to compete in only short distances for fear they might collapse from the strain.

Putting women in skirts in the boxing ring is not only silly, but so misguided it's hard to even understand the thinking behind it. Those who watch women's boxing will do so not because they like the sport and want to see them compete, not because they're wearing skirts.

The others will be watching beach volleyball.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg