Female boxers fight Games skirts idea

LONDON -- Female boxers preparing for the London Olympics want to make a statement with their punches and not their clothing.

The International Amateur Boxing Association sparked charges of sexism this month by announcing that officials are discussing whether women fighters should be urged to wear skirts in the ring at the 2012 Games.

A pre-Olympic test event this week at the ExCel arena involving competitors from 21 nations has brought the issue to the forefront. The decision on skirts will be made in January before the debut of women's boxing this summer at the London Olympics.

Certainly among Britain's female contingent, there isn't expected to be a skirt in sight over the next four days of competition.

"They are boxers and they want to wear boxing kit," Britain's podium coach Dave Alloway said Wednesday. "Some of the (female) boxers would possibly say, 'I'll wear what they tell me to wear if they are the rules.' But most would say we have earned the right to be boxers and we want to go as boxers, not female boxers."

AIBA has suggested that wearing skirts would help women stand out from the men. Female boxers from Poland and Romania donned skirts at last month's European Championships in the Netherlands.

Natasha Jonas, a British lightweight who is competing here this week, said the idea hadn't found much support among her teammates.

"There should be a choice -- no one should be forced to do anything," she said. "In other sports like (soccer) and cricket, you aren't forced to wear skirts. So I don't see why boxing should have to.

"For me, it doesn't seem practical. I know there are girls in AIBA who wear skirts all the time. But psychologically, I don't feel comfortable wearing one."

Sebastien Gillot, communications director for AIBA, said Tuesday that under no circumstances will wearing skirts be compulsory for female boxers next summer, and that the organization is simply sounding out opinion from the national federations and the public.

"These girls can be flagbearers," Alloway said. "If they get a gold medal, they will be superstars -- to become the first women to win gold at an Olympics can make them history makers."

Female boxers from four continents and three weight categories will be competing in the test event, starting Thursday and going through Sunday. There will be a men's event, across 10 weight divisions.

Just as in the first batch of test events held over the summer, organizers will try out the timing and scoring technology, the weigh-in and other details.

Boxing is one of eight sports involved in the second cluster of test events ahead of the London Games, seven of them being held at ExCel -- an $870 million convention center owned by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company.

Among the other sports being tested at the ExCel over the next four days is table tennis, which is using the occasion to hold its Pro Tour Grand Finals. Handball is testing out its Olympic venue in the Olympic Park in east London.

Fencing, taekwondo, judo, weightlifting and wrestling will have test events over the next two weeks.