Woman with a winning punch who is barred from boxing

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The Independent Online
Jane Couch holds the women's world welterweight boxing title. She has fought at major events in America and in Europe, appearing on the same bill as some of the biggest names in men's boxing. But in her home country, she is effectively barred from professional competition.

The British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC), the sport's governing body, has always refused to license women, citing medical grounds. Without a licence, female professionals cannot compete at men's fights - the events that attract the promoters and the sponsorship money.

Couch, 28, has decided to provoke a showdown with the BBBC, which she accuses of being stuck in a chauvinistic time warp. Last week she applied for a licence, knowing she would be turned down. Now she plans to launch a court action, claiming restriction of trade and sexual discrimination. "It's ridiculous that I'm a world champion and I can't fight in Britain," said Couch, known as the "Fleetwood Assassin", after her Lancashire home town.

In the United States and in much of Europe, particularly France, Germany and Scandinavia, women's boxing is regarded as a legitimate sport and is followed avidly on television.

Some experts suggest that women are more vulnerable to head injuries than men, but others point out that they also throw a less-heavy punch. A recent meeting of the World Boxing Council's medical panel was told that the sport is no more dangerous for women than for men.

However, John Morris, general secretary of the BBBC, remains unconvinced. "There is the question of pregnancy, and of whether women should box during their... periods," he said. "Our doctors are ambivalent."

The board, which is taking legal advice on Couch's court action, has no plans to conduct any research on the subject. Mr Morris suggested that female professionals should set up their own licensing body.

"A lot of people on my board don't like the idea of women boxing and getting their faces knocked around," he said. "I may be old-fashioned, but neither do I. And just imagine the outcry if a woman got badly hurt."

Couch, naturally, scoffs at such sentiments, saying she has only ever suffered a few cuts and bruises - "nothing worse than you would get down the pub on a Saturday night". For her, the rush of adrenalin is the driving force. "I just love going into that ring," she said. She believes that her sport will eventually receive recognition in Britain and was heartened by the Amateur Boxing Association's decision last year to allow women and girls to fight. But for professionals, the only British events in which they can participate are all-female fights, which are rarely staged because of scant interest from promoters and the shortage of high-calibre women.

Pauline Dickson, of the Association of Women Boxers, is circumspect. "You can't expect things to change overnight," she said. "But women's boxing is a hot potato that no one really wants to take responsibility for."

Couch, who started boxing two and a half years ago, won the world title last May in Copenhagen. She will defend it in August in Connecticut, on the same bill as Montell Griffin, the World Boxing Council light-heavyweight champion.

But for the moment, her aggression is directed at the BBBC. "They've got a fight on their hands," she said.