Most of us feel pretty confident we can tell the difference between male and female athletes, but the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) isn’t so sure. During last year’s boxing World Championships, it encouraged female competitors to wear skirts so that spectators could distinguish them from the men.
Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu, AIBA’s president, said that the move would be optional, but “after we hear about its comfort and how easy it is to compete in the uniform, it may be compulsory.” And today we heard that at last week’s European Championships, Poland and Romania enthusiastically adopted the new uniform for women.
But why is it so crucial that spectators find it easy to tell female boxers apart from men in the first place? Is it to stop people accidentally becoming aroused by a boxer of the wrong sex? Or is it in case they find themselves taking the women’s competition too seriously by accident? Neither of these possibilities reflects well on the sport.
And anyway, if we really do hear glowing reports of the skirt’s comfort and ease of use over the humble pair of shorts, shouldn’t male boxers be demanding the opportunity to wear them too? It seems only fair.
Women’s outfits always seem to be causing controversy in sport. Earlier this year the Badminton World Federation came under fire for proposals to make skirts for female players compulsory. The plans would have affected the 2012 Olympics, but were shelved after a furious reaction from badminton players including Imogen Bankier, a leading British professional, who said she would “fight to make sure this dated and simply sexist rule does not happen.” But the fight is already over for Olympic volleyball players, for whom rules on maximum (but not minimum) bikini sizes have long been in place.
It’s obvious that introducing skirts and teeny bikinis in place of sensible shorts and comfy swimwear doesn’t make playing conditions easier for athletes. So what’s the real reason? A cynical attempt to use sex to attract more spectators (and so more advertisers) to women’s sports that traditionally get a small audience, perhaps? Yet surely supplementing serious fans with hordes of leering blokes can’t be good for the sport in the long term. Any supposed comfort and ease-of-movement benefits the skirt could give to…