AIBA wants more female boxers

LONDON -- The head of amateur boxing's governing body sees the Olympic debut of women's boxing as one of his major achievements. Now he plans to do more.

Wu Ching-Kuo, president of the International Amateur Boxing Association, said Saturday he wants to see more female boxers at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

AIBA plans to ask the IOC to increase the sport's overall athlete allocation so women's boxing will have more than London's 36 fighters in three weight classes in Brazil. Although Wu is unsure of his chances of success, he is in good position to do that lobbying as a newly elected member of the IOC's executive board.

"The IOC will look at the performance, the result of women's boxing," Wu said after the opening session of men's boxing at ExCeL. "And as president of AIBA, if it's really positive, I certainly have the duty and the responsibility to fight for more, because we now have three gold medals for the women and 10 for the men."

After decades of steady growth and nearly a quarter-century of sanctioned amateur competition, supporters of women's boxing say their sport was more than ready to join the Olympic program when the IOC approved it for London in 2009.

Yet the IOC wouldn't increase the sport's overall athlete allocation because of its efforts to limit the total number of Olympic athletes to about 10,000, forcing AIBA to trim its men's field to accommodate the women. Boxing eliminated the featherweight class for men, trimming down to 10 weight classes, and reduced the overall men's field to 250 of the 286 boxers allowed.

Those accommodations still forced women's boxers to fit themselves into three widely spaced weight classes, leaving many longtime amateur stars without a chance to compete when they couldn't qualify at flyweight, lightweight or middleweight.

"It's not enough, but it's a very good beginning," Wu said. "Once we start, we can ask for more, but our performance must be very good."

That's not likely to be a problem when women finally take the Olympic ring next weekend for several sold-out sessions of competition.

Women's boxing has evolved rapidly over the past 24 years since Sweden formally sanctioned the amateur sport in 1988. The first world championships were held in Scranton, Pa., in 2001, and the sport has grown into a popular pursuit worldwide, with even Syria and Afghanistan holding their first national championships last year.

Yet the women still fight discrimination in many corners of the world. Cuba, a longtime men's amateur boxing powerhouse, refused to send a women's team to the Olympics, while the sport's safety has been questioned for decades.

"When we broadcast the competition to the world, everybody will fully realize that women's boxing is not dangerous," Wu said. "It's for skill, and if there is danger, in the AIBA, we look after boxers' safety."

Amateur boxing appears on an upswing after decades of corruption and decline, and its advocacy for women's boxing is just one part. The sport's much-derided computerized scoring system is on the way out after the Olympics, to be replaced by more traditional judging, while the men's boxers are expected to begin fighting without headgear.

Wu noted that every boxing session in London already is sold out after the sport played to large crowds at the Beijing Games.

"We have a lot of work to do, a lot of effort," Wu said. "But we put the athletes' interest No. 1. We start from the grass roots."