Skirting the issue: boxing's step backward

AP Photo/Toru Takahashi

The call for female fighters to wear skirts in the ring is about changing women's boxing from athletic contest to beauty contest.

Last week, the story broke about the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) asking its female competitors to abide by a new dress code. The AIBA called for the women of boxing to drop traditional knee-length shorts and don skirts inside the ring.

The reason? The AIBA believes it will help spectators to distinguish women from men. That, and as Polish coach Leszek Piotrowski, who made the skirt suggestion mandatory for the Polish team, put it: "By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression. Wearing shorts is not a good way for women boxers to dress."

Huh. I had no idea boxing was beguiled by such a predicament. Let's see if we can come up with a solution. For starters, we can always use our eyeballs to aid in differentiating men from women. Should that prove complicated, written words are helpful, as in labeling tickets and TV banners with "Women's Boxing." If those fail, there's the tried-and-true method of simply not caring about gender and choosing to watch boxing -- or any sport -- because of the competition. But skirts? We already have an organized event showcasing female fighters in skirts. It's called middle school. Time to grow up, AIBA. Let women choose what they want to wear.

Here we are on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, and we're still fighting goofy clauses that threaten to set female athletes back decades in our quest for equality. We should be making great strides in everything from salaries to women's professional leagues to introducing little girls into the realms of male-dominated sports. Instead, thanks to organizations like AIBA, we're dealing with inseam regulations.

Skirts have been around in women's sports since the beginning of time -- or at least since 1900, if we go by the inclusion of female athletes at the Paris Olympics. Tennis, field hockey, figure skating -- skirts are the norm in many athletic venues. The difference is that these sports and athletes are choosing to uphold tradition. No one is making the participants wear skirts. Uh-oh … participants. That's not very feminine. I mean particiskirts.

Even modern sports like triathlon and recreational running have women competing in athletically engineered skirts, giving ladies the opportunity to look cute and sassy while they race and work out. Some women love the skirts. Personally, it throws me off when I see a woman running in a skirt. My reaction is to wonder who's chasing her. Someone with a weapon? Maybe a briefcase? Still, these skirts are a choice, not a rule.

As for the boxers at the heart of the debate, the female fighters seem to be in agreement about the absurdity of the regulation, according to an interview by the BBC.

"It's a disgrace that they're forcing some of the women to wear those miniskirts. We should be able to wear shorts, just like the men," said Katie Taylor, a three-time world champion from Ireland.

"It should be the boxer's choice whether they want to or not. You shouldn't be forced to wear one," said British lightweight champion Natasha Jonas.

On one hand, the issue is amusing in its datedness. On the other hand, it's pretty frightening. The message boxing is sending to the world is this: Women's sports are all about looks, not athleticism. On top of that, AIBA isn't listening to what its athletes want and need. When an athletic institution isn't looking out for its players' best interests, it's a blow to athletes in every sport.

If we let the AIBA force skirts in boxing, we might as well endorse wardrobe changes in other women's sports.

Let's make tiaras mandatory for female cyclists. Those silly helmets just don't bring out their eyes. And bikinis for platform divers. Such great bodies, why not add a risqué element by combining high-impact speed with halter tops? That's a 10.0, baby. How about hot pants for equestrians? Chaps are so, like, 1832. And just to be safe, filed épée tips for women's fencing. Really, women shouldn't be running around with sharp objects. Unless they're in the kitchen, of course.

My choice for settling the matter of the boxing's uniform woes would be to have the skirt-suggesting member of the AIBA step into the ring with one of its athletes. The AIBA representative can wear the skirt, the athlete can wear the shorts, and whoever wins gets to enforce the dress code. Seems fair. But when it comes to mixing female athletes with media-generating publicity stunts, fair isn't usually part of the equation. Lady boxers of the world, keep fighting until it is. Your fellow female athletes are behind you. We look forward to women's boxing making its debut next year at the London Olympics. By then, we hope the focus is on your fists and not your hemlines.

I plan to be there in my tiara, cheering you on.

Related Content