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Women's boxing is on the bill in Glasgow but the sport has had to fight all the way

IN just 52 days' time, boxing history will be made in Glasgow.

Nicola Adams  won Olympic gold in London and also struck a blow for women's boxing by attracting a new audience to the sport. Picture: Getty Images
Nicola Adams won Olympic gold in London and also struck a blow for women's boxing by attracting a new audience to the sport. Picture: Getty Images

The first women's match in Commonwealth Games history will take place at the SECC, as fighters of both genders contest medals. This development follows on from the inclusion of women's boxing in the Olympic Games for the first time in London two years ago. That female boxers now have the chance to win medals on the world stage is a welcome development. But getting to this point has been a far harder battle than any fight these women will have to contend with inside the ring.

Incredibly, women's boxing was illegal in Great Britain until November 1996 when a 116-year ban on women taking part in the sport was lifted. The first women's boxing bout was recorded in Britain in the 18th century but, when the modern Olympiad was founded by Pierre De Coubertin in 1896, women's sport was frowned upon in general. The Frenchman believed that women should not take part in organised, public sport as their inclusion would be "impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect".

Consequently, the path for the development of women's sport was littered with obstacles. Women's boxing appeared in the 1904 Olympic Games as a demonstration sport but then disappeared from the programme completely, despite men's boxing being virtually omnipresent (its only absence from the Games was in 1912).

So, for almost the entire 20th century, women's boxing was outlawed and remained an outcast in the world of sport, with few women venturing to take part and even fewer trainers willing to coach them. Jane Couch was Britain's No.1 female boxer in the 1990s and it was her obduracy which kick-started real change in this country.

Couch wanted a professional licence to box but was initially denied this liberty by the British Boxing Board of Control. She refused to be beaten, though, and took the BBBoC to court, won her case and was eventually awarded a pro licence in February 1998.

Despite the BBBoC acceding to Couch's demand for a professional licence, much resistance remained. Frank Maloney, one of Britain's most successful promoters, said at the time: "Anyone who wants to watch women fight shouldn't be given the vote."

His opinion was shared by many, with Lennox Lewis calling women's boxing a "freak show". The sport remained anathema to many observers.

Boxing is afforded a curious variety of descriptions: some see it as nothing more than a blood sport; others believe it is the noblest of arts. While it is generally accepted that boxing is a skilful, precise and technical sport, it is unquestionably underpinned by violence, making it, for some, an unpalatable activity for women to engage. Boxing remains, to many, a bastion of masculinity.

I am ashamed to admit that I too felt uneasy about women's boxing initially. My ignorance of the sport meant that I was uncomfortable watching women punch each other, much more so than when I watched men do the same thing. But London 2012 changed all of that for me, just as it changed the attitudes of thousands, if not millions, of others.

The inclusion of the sport in the Olympic Games for the first time made people realise that it can provide displays just as impressive as in men's boxing and that it is not impossible to reconcile boxing with a women's gender. Ingrained sexism is difficult to shift but the London Olympics worked wonders in dissipating much of this prejudice.

Of all the stars who were born at London 2012, none shone brighter than Nicola Adams. Britain's first female boxing Olympic gold medallist, she attracted a new audience to the sport almost single-handedly.

She proved that one can be intelligent, charming and eloquent as well as being a world-class boxer. Outside the ring, she was not aggressive or masculine but inside, she was just as athletic, skilful and brave as her male counterparts. Adams will compete at Glasgow 2014, aiming to make history again as her sport's first female Commonwealth champion. She is an official ambassador for the Games, illustrating just how highly regarded she is.

The inclusion of women's boxing in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games is a huge step forward for the sport as it attempts to reduce the sexism which surrounds women entering a boxing ring. Increased media coverage will, slowly but surely, diminish the taboo which surrounds women's boxing. The only effective way of subverting opinion is by increasing public understanding of the women's side of the sport.

The London Olympics and Glasgow Commonwealth Games do not herald an unadulterated revolution for women's boxing, but there is no denying what a considerable distance the sport has come in just 20 years.

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