Shorts or skirts? Female boxers face a split decision at London 2012

Sport's chiefs want women to take the 'elegant' option at Olympics – but they've got a fight on their hands

With only months remaining before women's boxing makes its debut at the Olympic Games, competitors are still contending with that most troublesome of distractions. Just what are they going to wear?

The amateur game's various commissions are meeting in Thailand this week to make recommendations on a gathering sartorial storm. Should female boxers be made to wear skirts?

The Technical and Rules Commission has for some time been investigating whether women should wear shorts or skirts. They will present their findings in secret, amid considerable public pressure to keep shorts on the table.

More than 50,000 people have signed an online petition demanding women be free to choose what they wear in the ring, led by Elizabeth Plank, an amateur boxer from London. "This petition is not about a piece of fabric, it's about athletes and it's about their credibility," she said.

"If there's one lesson I've learnt through my experience as a boxer, it is that when someone throws a punch, curling up in the foetal position is not an option. You stand up and you fight."

Skirts were first introduced, to much outrage in September 2010, in response to a complaint by the president of the Amateur International Boxing Association (Aiba), CK Wu, that spectators could apparently "not tell the difference" between the women and the men.

Teams from Poland and Romania wore skirts at the European Championships. Their coaches defended the decision, saying the skirts were "more elegant" and gave "a more womanly impression".

But there are compelling technical reasons why the skirt might be the way to go. "They're more comfortable," said Australian boxer Laura Sapperstein. "With skirts you get stretchy nice materials, the sort that runners wear. They're far more comfortable."

No members of Team GB are so inclined, however. "All of them have a preference for wearing shorts when they train and compete," said a spokesman.

The commission's recommendations will be passed to the Aiba Executive Committee, which will make a final decision when it meets in July, just days before the start of the Games. Mr Wu has said he personally would not be in favour of introducing a mandatory rule".

Hemmed in: Skirts in sport

Tennis

Women have been told to wear skirts, and white ones too, at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club – better known as Wimbledon – since the 19th century. The rule has never been broken, though some have skirted close to the mark. Last year the American Bethanie Mattek-Sands wore knee-high socks and a jacket with spikes and white domes made from tennis balls.

Badminton

Badminton's governing body ditched a controversial skirts or dresses only rule last year after a considerable backlash. The Badminton World Federation had wanted to "glamorise" the sport.

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