"This seems a demented extension of equal opportunities," said Dr Bill O'Neill, of the British Medical Association, yesterday. And, for once, his opposition to a boxing match was supported by boxers.
As Amanda Prime and Emma Brammer, both 13, prepared to step into the ring tonight in a historic bout made possible by new Amateur Boxing Association rules, many of the hard men of the sport were turning soft.
"Never mind political correctness or European laws, I am totally against it," said Henry Cooper, former British and European heavyweight champion. "Women are made differently from men. Their entire body structure is not like a man's. Women are made for loving and not hitting."
The unlikely alliance of the BMA - which has campaigned for years against all forms of boxing - and the likes of Henry Cooper has come as a result of the ABA's decision to recognise women in amateur boxing in order to avoid a legal challenge which many in the sport believed it would inevitably face.
It has caused a huge split among boxers and fight fans, best summed up by Barry McGuigan, the former world featherweight champion. "I have mixed emotions," he said. "As president of the Professional Boxers' Association I stand up for boxers who have their licences revoked, so it would not be right for me to stand up now and say women shouldn't be allowed to box.
"From a personal point of view, I don't like it and have not enjoyed watching it. But we live in a democracy and it would be sexist to say we should ban women from boxing."
The two girls will step out tonight for three 90-second rounds at Key's nightclub in Stoke-on-Trent. "Some people have said nice things about the fight and my boxing and others haven't been quite so nice," Emma said. "But they are entitled to their opinion. Now I just want to get on with it."
Her parents, Elizabeth and Derek Brammer, said they would be there to support her. "I will be watching with my hands half over my face," said Mrs Brammer. "My husband has been involved in boxing for a number of years and my son Jason boxes, so I know all about it. Women don't actually realise just how safe it is."Reuse content