Boxing: A jab in the unmentionables from the girls

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The Independent Online
If Emma Brammer and Andrea Prime had elected to meet behind the girls' toilets and belabour each other with hockey sticks, their encounter would have gone unnoticed by all except the local casualty department. Had they met at dawn for a duel with machetes, they might have rated a headline or two in the daily excitables. Even Kalashnikovs at 10 paces would probably have been wearily acknowledged as another manifestation of our troubled times.

Instead, they decided to don pillow-sized gloves, head guards and breast protectors and square up in a controlled boxing match - whereupon, an exceedingly large part of the nation turned puce with outrage. Had their bout, part of an amateur tournament at a Stoke nightclub, taken place on Thursday it seems that many people's concept of civilisation would have been severely damaged.

The fight was called off not by official decree but by Miss Brammer herself who, like her proposed opponent, is 13 years of age. It was a sensible decision taken by a young lady who recognised that she and Andrea would be touching gloves under a media spotlight not much less dazzling than that accorded a heavyweight championship.

However, she remains justly adamant that she has the right to pursue her interest in the sport and that the bout, the first authorised female fisticuffs in Britain, will take place. Then, no doubt, the outcry will be resumed and we shall have to endure comments similar to those of Harriet Harman who said on BBC's Question Time on Thursday: "We shouldn't be teaching violence to young girls."

That attempted profundity qualifies as both a joke and an insult. It is a joke because whatever knowledge our young ladies are lacking when they leave school it won't be that of violence. Sadly, it is the last thing they need to be taught. The nation sits helplessly as estates and schools - although perhaps not the one Miss Harman's children attend - are alive with the sights and sounds of girlish violence; classmates are kicked to death or bullied into suicide, grannies are mugged and old people terrorised. Boxing was never capable of causing that.

Even though the sport is on its last legs, regularly degraded and demeaned by many of those involved in it, it is an insult to accuse it of teaching violence. Boxing accommodates some violent natures, although the majority of its toughest champions have been comparatively timid when off-duty. And while it can demonstrate how to apply violence in a skilful manner it can also provide the means with which to defend yourself and, at its best, can provide the most enthralling sporting contests.

There are obvious dangers but it has the capacity as an amateur sport to make youngsters fit, agile and confident. Certainly, there are far less healthy activities for young people to be attracted to and there was a time when most boys had a compulsory introduction to boxing at school. One or two ventures into the ring were enough to make most of us say "sod this for a game of soldiers" but at least we were left with a lasting impression of the courage and skill required and an admiration for those who went on to be champions.

The British Medical Association, long-time opponents of the sport, were loud among the condemning voices last week and the physical differences that accompany females into the ring must be a serious concern. If, for instance, it is impossible for breasts to be totally protected there is no way one could condone the risk to such a vulnerable area. If a man's testicles were situated under his chin, boxing would never have started in the first place.

But last week's debate seemed more concerned with the moral objections to girls entering the ring, which is surprising when you consider the advances women have been encouraged to make in so many directions. I have to admit that the thought of women boxing doesn't appeal to me, either, and would have appealed less 10 years ago but I have learned to live with their remorseless march on the male bastions and am convinced that they will one day infiltrate them all.

Generations to come will see mixed football, cricket and rugby teams at the highest level. Women will play in the Ryder Cup, win the Grand National and the British Grand Prix. Not even in the wildest regions of my imagination can I see them winning any sort of boxing title but you cannot create an atmosphere of sex equality in all aspects of our society and expect there ever to be an end to it.

Henry Cooper spoke for many when he said that women are made for loving not hitting. We all know men who would be obliged if he'd explain that to their wives but the basic point of this episode goes deeper than our attitude to girls being allowed into a boxing ring. What should interest us is that a significant number of young ladies - Emma and Andrea are two of many - are anxious to try it.

We've long departed from the days when little girls were made of sugar and spice and all things nice. There is nothing they are afraid to tackle and if you rejoice at the sight of women storming the battlements of golf clubs and other male-dominated bodies such as the MCC you should not recoil from further examples of a willingness to follow the boys into the most hazardous sports.

I hope these two young ladies achieve their ambition and the sport can provide them with the maximum of enjoyment and the minimum of pain. Meanwhile, it is the number of youngsters of both sexes who have no sporting opportunity or motivation which is the real scandal. But, even in this lottery age, it is not fashionable to protest about that.

THERE was an unpleasant sting in the tail to my busman's holiday at the Ryder Cup last weekend. I went by cruise liner rather than bus but we did have an extremely efficient shuttle service to the course from our berth at Algiceras and, even allowing for the weather, it was a marvellous event at which to be a spectator.

Unfortunately, I had a slight brush with a stomach bug which caused me some grief on Saturday afternoon. I have to confess that I opted out of the golf to visit the Venture Inn in Gibraltar in order to see the Pontypridd v Brive match on television. I flaked out after 25 minutes and rapidly found myself in an ambulance bound for the excellent St Bernard's hospital where it was diagnosed that I had severe dehydration.

It is not a complaint with which I am familiar but it did not prevent me from occupying a place on the crowded bank behind the 17th tee on Sunday. Apart from a slight argument with a brother European who accused me of invading his space, it was one of the great sporting afternoons.

Regrettably, at the very moment of triumph I found myself cursing. I had backed Europe to win 15-13 and Scott Hoch needed only to miss a 12ft putt for me to net pounds 150. Then, someone conceded it. I suspect it was Seve Ballesteros rather than Colin Montgomerie who extended this unforgivable courtesy to the world's least deserving object of generosity.

Whoever it was it created a distorted result that cost many a good man a few quid. These golfers don't miss a trick when it comes to maximising their own earning opportunities; they should have a touch more care about ours.