Boxing: Battling belles begin to punch their weight

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The Independent Online

After a week in which girl power was put to the test on the golf course, a score of women exercised their rights, plus a tidy few lefts, yesterday. Like Annika Sorenstam they, too, were attempting to avoid a cut, but with considerably more success, as it happened.

The first-ever female national amateur boxing championships, held under the auspices of the Police Boxing Association at Hendon's Metropolitan Police College, were an indication that fisticuffs and the fair sex can legitimately go hand in glove. There are now around 100 fighting females under the jurisdiction of the English Amateur Boxing Association, and at these inaugural championships, as you might expect from the venue, almost half the combatants were policewomen. Thus a spot of police brutality ensued.

These days women's boxing is very much PC - or WPC in this case. Such are the sex- discrimination laws that any sports body seeking funding must open its doors to women participants as well as men, and amateur boxing has now come up to scratch.

And the verdict? As a seasoned old ringside hand I must say that some of them aren't bad; there are certainly a few hits among the females. It is by no means all butch and biceps, or handbags at three paces, and at least the hooks were more intentionally aimed than Sorenstam's - and with greater venom.

As 27-year-old light-welterweight Louise Laming, a policewoman from Eltham who has switched from kickboxing, says: "I understand the objections, but really boxing is no more dangerous for women than kickboxing or other martial arts like taekwondo or judo.''

Bantamweight winner Nicola Adams, a 20-year-old dispatch clerk from Leeds and also a decent track athlete, is one of England's two current international representatives. She took up boxing after joining a Leeds gym for fitness training. She has now had a dozen bouts, but boasts not so much as a busted lip.

"It's all about equality, really,'' she says. She spars regularly with men and claims: "A lot of us can box just as well as men, even if we don't hit as hard.'' A bit like golf, really.

Among the clutch of Tamasins, Tiffanys and Fionas - there was even a Fabienne -The Bill dominated the bill. But for some of the clouting cops, proceedings were considerably less hazardous than their day jobs. Laming is frequently involved in drugs raids, while southpaw Tiffany Lynch, of Leicester police, whom Laming stopped in the second round of their final, is with an armed-response unit.

"In and out, jab, jab, jab, and again, Jenny!'' The exhortations from the mums, dads and boyfriends in the sparse crowd - this was a low-key event - echoed around the gymnasium. Not much of a crowd maybe, but all the trimmings - dinner-jacketed MC, five ringside judges and refs in pristine white presiding over the three one-and-a-half minute bouts. A kiss on the cheek from the cuts man - fortunately none needed to use their swab sticks yesterday - is the only reward, apart from a small trophy.

It is all a long way from the professional world of women's boxing where, in the US, The Greatest's girl, Laila Ali, is something of a pioneer, having inherited a semblance of her old man's skills. Neither were any of these contestants in the same league as Britain's leading professional, Jane Couch, the "Fleetwood Assassin'', who once KO'd a bloke in a bar when he patted her bum.

But at least women's amateur boxing is starting to punch its weight. This may stick in the craw of traditionalists like Henry Cooper and Frank Maloney, but those prejudices about punching judys need to be buried. It may be one activity where women can get nose jobs for nothing, but it isn't going away.

It is particularly blossoming in the universities; one practitioner, 24-year-old social psychologist Jess Hudson, is at Cambridge working towards a PhD. At Southampton, the University Boxing Club have more women members than men. In these championships there were a handful of walkovers because, as the ABA chairman, Jim Smart, explained, opponents of sufficient quality could not be found for some of the more proficient girls.

It all passed off with much dignity and decorum. Bouts were halted almost at the first wobble, and even the compulsory chest-protectors seemed redundant, because no one aims punches at this part of the anatomy anyway. Next year, the women's championships will be integrated with the men's at York Hall, though the post-fight kisses implanted on their charges' cheeks by the corner men may draw more than an arched eyebrow from the clientele of that old emporium.

The preferred image of femininity, soft and compliant, is clearly threatened by this new-age expression of aggression from boxing Boadic-eas. There's even talk of a film of the Bend It Like Beckham genre. Biff It Like Bruno? C'mon my girl, be first!