Women fight to win

Sport's last all-male bastions are in danger, writes Colin Blackstock
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The Independent Online
WOMEN can't run marathons - their wombs will fall out. So ran conventional wisdom when women first started to take up male sports. The very idea seems ridiculous now, yet women are still battling against male bastions and silly excuses keep coming.

Jane Couch, a British boxer, had her application for a UK boxing licence turned down because women suffer from pre-menstrual tension and are too frail: they bruise easily.

So, whether it be in the boxing ring in Birmingham or in the pole- vault at the Sydney Olympics, women will be conspicuous by their absence.

Admittedly, few women want to get into a boxing ring. Fewer still do it, and of those who do, none has the blessing of the British Boxing Board of Control, even if the woman in questionis the world welterweight champion, as Ms Couch is.

What's good for the gander is not for the goose, according to the BBBC's medical adviser, Dr Adrian Whiteson, who gave evidence during a sex-discrimination industrial tribunal case brought by Ms Couch. Last Friday, he argued against women being allowed to box on the grounds that they were "too frail", bruised easily, and become unstable when suffering from PMT. He said the death of a woman in the ring could destroy the sport.

This is viewed simply as an excuse by Ms Couch: "I was informed that my application was refused on medical grounds. But I maintain that the application was refused on sex-discrimination grounds. I do not suffer from pre-menstrual tension or painful periods. I have a pregnancy test before every bout so pregnancy cannot be a reason."

Catherine Hughes, national development officer of the Women's Sports Foundation, commented: "There is an ongoing debate about boxing in general, but while boxing is open to men it should be open to women. I think the time has come for the way sports are organised to recognise that women do want a full role in certain sports, in coaching as well as participation."

Danny Kelly, sports presenter of Channel 4's Under the Moon and publishing director of Football365, an on-line sports website (www.football365.co.uk), agrees: "I think it's inevitable and desirable that women should be breaking down these barriers. Sport is always the last to fall into line with these things. The problem is that it is still run by amateur blazered bodies which take up positions that are wrong and refuse to change. Time and again we've seen that as soon as these edicts from flannelled fools go to courts of law they are over-turned because you can't discriminate against people."

The Sports Council, which recently refused a National Lottery award to the MCC because it doesn't accept female members, blamed the regulatory bodies for not making boxing more accessible to women. It said: "If women or girls wish to box then they should not be debarred on the grounds of their sex."

The Sports Council taught the MCC a lesson by barring its application for funding; its committee are now keen for female members to be let in, but it is for the members to decide if a 211-year-old men-only rule will change in a vote on 24 February.

Amanda Heathcote, a 24-year-old sponsorship consultant to the Professional Cricketers' Association, aims to apply for membership if the rule is overturned.

She believes cricket needs to catch up with other sports. "The MCC is a private members' club which allows them to make their own rules, and if it was just about that then fine. But the fact is that they are custodians of Lord's and control a lot of what goes on in cricket. Due to this position I don't feel that they can ignore the women cricketers in this country and throughout the world."