Welterweight champion faces her biggest fight yet - to knock discrimina tion out of the ring

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JANE COUCH, the women's world welterweight boxing champion, is about to face her toughest fight yet.

Ms Couch, 29, is taking the British Boxing Board of Control to an industrial tribunal in Croydon tomorrow for refusing her a licence to fight professionally in this country.

The "Fleetwood Assassin", as she is known, says the board is breaching equal-opportunities legislation by preventing her from earning a living.

She will claim that its reasons for keeping her out of the professional ring are "stereotypical" and not based on any individual assessment of her capability. Sara Lesley, her solicitor, pointed out last night that one of the seven grounds given for refusing the licence is that women suffer from pre-menstrual tension, which makes them "emotionally unstable and prone to accidents". Ms Lesley said the board has never examined Ms Couch to assess her individual suitability. Other reasons put forward by the board are that women boxers might unknowingly be in the early stages of pregnancy and that some medical authorities contend that blows to the breast can cause lumps which may later turn malignant.

A born street-fighter - Ms Couch has been known to lay out men who have paid her unwanted attention - she started boxing three years ago after seeing a television documentary about female fighters.

The 10-stone 5ft 7in boxer won her world crown by comprehensively defeating reigning champion Sandra Geiger in Copenhagen in May last year.

Her solicitor conceded that many people found the idea of women boxers distasteful. "But we are not addressing the moral argument, we are simply trying to assert her right to earn a living," she said. If Ms Couch did not win her right to fight professionally, she would be forced to move to America.

Kamlesh Bahl, chairwoman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which is backing the boxer's case, said Ms Couch had proved her ability by winning the world championship. "More and more women wish to exercise their choice to take parts in all sports at all levels."