The decision of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association to "take steps to ensure (the introduction) of female boxing into the activities of the association in the coming season" at last Sunday's a.g.m. met with little or no opposition when the motion was put to the delegates from all over the country. Not one convincing dissenting voice was raised. When a show of hands was called, only five delegates indicated their opposition.
The president of the Ulster Council, Pat McCrory, told the delegates that, while he was not in favour of the motion personally, he had been mandated by his council to vote in favour and he did so. The presidents of the Munster and Connacht councils also spoke in favour of the motion. The only surprising thing about that, as far as long-time IABA observers are concerned, was that Pat McCrory had been convinced to vote for something he didn't agree with. Of course, what he and all the others present knew only too well was that a vote against might precipitate court action or, more importantly, provoke a reaction from the Government which could lead to the cutting off of grants.
Now that the die is cast it will be interesting to see what happens next. It is widely known that there are many male coaches, referees, judges and other officials who are reluctant, for a variety of reasons - many of them genuine and not all of them chauvinist - to support the introduction of young women to boxing.
First, there is the problem of providing dressing-room and showering facilities in clubs and gymnasiums around the country. Then there are the problems of looking after women boxers during a bout. In this respect it would be difficult to provide sufficient female corner-persons to treat body injuries or low blows for instance. The problem of whether female boxers should be required to wear special chest protesters must also be dealt with. It appears that, in Finland, for instance, this requirement has been abandoned.
The Finns believe that these protectors inhibit a boxer from protecting her head properly. The design of the protector tends to make it difficult to keep the hands close together in front of the face according to some observers. During the short and one-sided debate on these matters in the National Stadium on Sunday the proposer of the motion, Philomena Sutcliffe, suggested that boxing women would attract bigger crowds. Such an argument should not be pursued as it could easily be turned against her genuine beliefs.
There are some who might make an argument that female mud-wrestling in the stadium might also attract big crowds but that, surely, is not what the advocates of women's boxing are interested in. A level-headed contribution to the debate came from Noel Humpston who suggested that, if women wanted to box they should set up their own association and regulate it themselves. In that situation, he said, the IABA should offer its encouragement, support and advice while, at the same time, leaving the women in total control with their own administration, rules and regulations. He cited golf as an example. He might also have suggested that a model might be the GAA. In fact, the IABA as it stands has an identical structure to the GAA. It is based on clubs, county boards, provincial councils and central council.
Many within the GAA initially opposed demands by women to be allowed play Gaelic football. Eventually a compromise was reached which involved setting up an autonomous body to control the sport with GAA units throughout the country offering their support insofar as playing and training facilities are concerned while leaving the girls and women who want to play the game completely in charge of their own affairs.
In recent years more and more women have become involved in the administration of the GAA itself while many men have become involved in coaching and training women's football teams and also involved with camogie, which is also an autonomous body but supported by the GAA.
There is no reason to believe that such a situation could not be achieved in boxing. This would allow men to help if they wished or opt out if they had reservations.
It was interesting to note that in an earlier debate last Sunday on the question of sponsorship, the president, Breandan O Conaire, pointed out that boxing (male boxing) was a sport which did not offer a very attractive proposition to sponsors because of a vociferous anti-boxing lobby which suggested that the sport be banned entirely.
Such an attitude will, surely, be even more pronounced if female boxing becomes widespread. We will yet have to assess public reaction to the sight of young girls or women sporting black eyes, crooked noses, cauliflower ears, split eyebrows or burst knuckles.
Making an articulate case for male boxing is difficult enough as things stand but making a case for women's boxing is sure to be much more fraught with difficulty. Time, as usual, is likely to be the only yardstick by which these matters can be judged.