Sport Focus: A History of Women's Boxing

February 27, 2019

As part of our Sport Focus month on Boxing we’re taking a look back into the history of Women’s Boxing and how it has grown to become a Commonwealth Games and Olympic sport in recent years.

The Early Years

Boxing as we know it dates back to the early 1700s, although fought bare knuckle and with very different rules, and women participated almost from the start. Elizabeth Wilkinson Stokes “The City Championess” and Hannah Hyfield “The Newgate Market Basket-Woman” advertised their fights in newspapers and gained prominence in the 1720s, but the popularity of female contests declined throughout the century and by the 1830s women’s Boxing was invisible or extinct. There was a revival of the professional sport for women in the latter half of the 19th century, beginning in the USA and spreading to France, Germany and Great Britain, but the belief that contact sports were physically and mentally dangerous for women persisted. Women were encouraged to play Tennis or Croquet but Boxing, Wrestling, Hockey and Swimming were considered too rigorous.

Quest for Olympic Inclusion

Women’s Boxing featured as a demonstration event at the 1904 Olympic Games, as did Boxing for men. The men’s event was subsequently adopted into the Olympic programme and the results made official, but not so for the women. In fact it would be over a century before female boxers would next appear in the Olympic ring.

The revival was pioneered by the Swedish Amateur Boxing Association, which sanctioned events for women in 1988. The British Amateur Boxing Association sanctioned its first boxing competition for women in 1997. The first European Cup for women was held in 1999 and the first AIBA Women’s World Championships in 2001 with 125 boxers from 30 countries participating.

Women’s Boxing was proposed as an Olympic sport in October 2005, for inclusion in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, but was rejected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) amid concerns over the number of nations that would be represented and the skill level of the athletes. Despite this set back, its supporters kept up the momentum with two special exhibition bouts held at the 2007 Men’s World Championships in Chicago to showcase the women’s sport in front of an audience of invited IOC officials.

By the 2008 World Championships, participation had grown to 237 boxers from 42 nations and the sport was once again put forward for inclusion in the London 2012 Olympic Games. UK Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell made a strong pitch for the sport, as well as championing men in traditionally female sports such as Synchronised Swimming.

The initial proposal for 2012 was for 40 female boxers to compete in the Games – eight boxers in each of five weight categories. This was eventually revised to 36 boxers – 12 in each of three weight categories. This time the proposal was successful and the announcement of Women’s Boxing as an Olympic sport was made by IOC President Jaques Rogge in August 2009.

He said: “I can only rejoice about the decision of inclusion of women’s boxing. The sport of women’s boxing has progressed a tremendous amount in the last five years and it was about time to include them in the Games.”

On the Olympic Stage

London 2012 saw the first female Olympic Champions crowned in Boxing. Team GB’s Nicola Adams won the first gold medal as she took the Flyweight title, defeating reigning World Champion Ren Cancan of China in the final. The Lightweight gold medal went to Ireland’s Katie Taylor, with Team USA’s Claressa Shields winning Middleweight gold.

The impact of the sport’s inclusion at London 2012 was huge, with the champions becoming household names and role models for the next generation of female boxers. Nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated than by a 30% jump in participation numbers at the 2013 Women’s Junior & Youth World Championships.

Three weight categories were again included at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where Nicola Adams and Claressa Shields defended their titles from 2012, and the sport is now an accepted part of the Olympic programme.

Commonwealth Games

Following the impact the sport made at London 2012, the decision was made to include women’s boxing in the Commonwealth Games at Glasgow 2014. The same weight categories used in Olympic competition were included. A total of 38 female boxers from 20 different nations participated, with England winning two titles (Nicola Adams, Flyweight and Savannah Marshall, Middleweight) and Australia’s Shelley Watts taking Lightweight gold.

At the Gold Coast 2018 Games, the number of female medal events was doubled to six. Scotland’s first female boxers were selected for these Games, with Team Scotland represented by 18 year olds Vicky Glover and Megan Gordon. Megan made the step up to the senior team, having become Scotland’s first female boxer, and first female boxing medallist, at the Commonwealth Youth Games just nine months before at Bahamas 2017. Both Vicky and Megan finished in 5th place in Gold Coast, Megan unlucky to draw six-time World Champion Mary Kom of India in her quarter-final bout and Vicky losing out on a place on the podium by split decision.

Women’s Boxing in Scotland

Women first competed at the Scottish Elite Championships finals on 26 March 2010, when Katy Atkin defeated Gemma Brodie to become Scottish Welterweight Champion. The following year saw Katy defend her title and a first Scottish title for Stephanie Kernachan, who went on to become Scotland’s first female British Champion in 2015. The 2018 Women’s World Championships in Delhi, India were a landmark event for Boxing Scotland as Stephanie, alongside Vicky Glover and Megan Reid, became the first Scottish boxers ever to compete at this event.

The number of female boxers entering the Scottish Championships continue to rise and Scottish boxers are now looking to make their mark at major international events. Scottish women now regularly compete on the international stage and, following Vicky and Megan’s success at Gold Coast 2018, Team Scotland will be looking for their first Commonwealth Games medal in Women’s Boxing at Birmingham 2022.

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