Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen

boxing correspondent

The last time that the Commonwealth Games took place in Scotland the African nations led a boycott, there were no female fighters and boxers from Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales won 30 of a possible 48 medals.

That was in 1986 and a lot has changed on the international amateur boxing scene since those dark and easily forgotten days. The boxing tournament attracted just 86 boxers, down from an average of about 160, and considerably lower than the 300 or so who went to the scales in Glasgow today.

Also missing this year will be headguards, which were introduced in the 1984 Olympics and worn for the first time in the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, and also the word amateur; it’s just boxing now. The decision to discard headguards was made after the 2012 Olympics; last year’s World Championships were the first major event without the guards and there was no noticeable increase in knockouts, but there were far too many sloppy cuts caused by wayward heads.

The introduction of headguards 30 years ago and their demise last year were each accompanied by no clear medical evidence either for or against their use; their sudden disappearance created havoc for corner men and ringside doctors. Thankfully, there are now, so I have been assured, clear and stronger guidelines on what to do and who to blame once a boxer is cut.

 

The odd decision earlier this week by the Home Office and Games officials to refuse Fred Evans accreditation is unlikely to be the only bewildering and controversial decision between the preliminaries and the finals, both men and women, on 2 August. Evans, a silver medalist at the London Olympics, had been in some minor trouble in April of this year and is out, but in 2006 a New Zealand boxer was allowed to compete after serving four-years in prison for the manslaughter of his daughter.

There are always flash points during major boxing tournaments with bad decisions, accusations of incompetence and one or two nations crying foul at every verdict; the bad boys and girls in Glasgow will be India, who were the top boxing nation in Delhi four years ago but have since been banned briefly by the sport’s governing body and make their return to international competition with a great squad.

Sadly, India’s five-time world champion Mary Kom will not be competing and renewing extreme hostilities with Nicola Adams, the first woman to ever win an Olympic boxing medal, in the flyweight category. Kom was one of thousands of women boxers who suffered when just three weight categories were introduced for the 2012 Olympics and she was forced to move up in weight. Adams will probably have to face at some point Pinki Jangra, who beat Kom at the Indian trial. Adams at 31 looks set for another historic day on the podium.

England’s other two female boxers are Olympic veterans: Natasha Jonas and former world champion Savannah Marshall are expected to get medals. The women, by the way, still wear headguards. There are some quality female boxers from the other Home Nations but the English trio benefit from being part of Great Britain’s boxing base in Sheffield, which is the envy of the world, and are really full-time professional boxers.

In Delhi the Northern Irish boxers won three golds and two silvers and with Paddy Barnes, the defending light flyweight champion, and Michael Conlan they start with two clear tournament favourites. However, Conlan, a loser before the medals in Delhi, and Barnes, a veteran of several skirmishes with officials, both know that favourites often lose at the so-called friendly games. “There are no favourites and with no headguards anything can happen,” Barnes said. “I like fighting without headguards, but fighting five or six times in 10 days is impossible.”

Ten English boxers went to the Edinburgh games and they each returned with a medal. There are 10 in Glasgow, including the trio of woman, and a similar ratio of return is expected. The squad is young but good enough with men like Anthony Fowler, Joe Joyce and Sam Maxwell to emulate the boys from 1986. The main difference to now is that back then boxers from the Home Nations were often hapless figures in international terms and Commonwealth medals were their main haul; now they compete and win at Olympics, European and World level in unprecedented numbers. The significance of Glasgow is that everybody at elite level is talking about it as a warm-up for Rio in 2016.

It starts Friday with the preliminaries in a number of divisions. The big day is next Friday when there will be 26 semi-finals, a unique event that will arguably be the finest day of amateur boxing to ever take place in Britain.

Five to watch: Ring contenders

Joe Joyce (England) Super-heavyweight

Joyce is a member of the  Earlsfield club in south London and worked as a lifeguard. He has a fine arts degree and won a bronze at last year’s European championships.

Josh Taylor (Scotland) Light welterweight

Taylor is an Olympic veteran, a silver medal winner in Delhi and a truly elite fighter.

Paddy Barnes (Northern Ireland) Light flyweight

Barnes has narrowly lost in two Olympic semi-finals and won the gold in Delhi. Arguably the best boxer at the Games.

Andrew Selby (Wales) Flyweight

Selby has twice won the European title and was beaten in the Olympics by the brilliant Cuban Robeisy Ramirez before the medals.

Valerian Spicer (Dominica) Lightweight

Spicer fights for the Islington club and has won the English title.

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