Male Safety First? A «Headguard-free» Rio 2016 Olympic Games


The international boxing association (AIBA) recently confirmed that the upcoming Rio 2016 Olympic Game will be held “Headguard-free” (for male boxers only). For those who do not follow international boxing, AIBA decided to remove the headguard at the 2013 World Championships (again, for men). Considering this decision, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has just recently agreed to remove the headguards for the men’s competition in the upcoming Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

The 2013 World Championship in Almaty was the first time in 30 years where male boxers competed without headguards (AIBA, 2016). The change in AIBA’s competition rules were prompted by research done by The Association’s Medical Commission. Here, AIBA studied the outcome of more “than 11,000 bouts in major boxing competitions and the number of concussion showed a significant drop of 43% from 2013 to 2015” (AIBA, 2016). In AIBA’s press release confirming the new changes to the men’s competition in the 2016 Olympic Games, AIBA President Dr Ching-Kuo Wu states that: We are profoundly pleased that there will be no headguard for male boxers in Rio. It is something that has been expected by our boxers and by the boxing fans the world over. Since our very first conversations with athletes and medical staff on the issue we have been investigating the possibility of removing headguards and both our statistical research, and the feedback from boxers and coaches, shows us that this is the best outcome for our sport. It is undoubtedly a great achievement for AIBA to present our boxers without headguards at the next Olympic Games, the most important sporting event”.

Although there is research-based evidence concluding that there are no significant gender differences in cognitive and neurological functions between male and female amateur boxers (Stojsih, Boitano, Wilhelm & Bir, 2008) AIBA have chosen to remove the headguards for the men’s competitions only. Given that AIBA as the governing body of international amateur boxing points to the health and safety of their boxers (fewer concussions) as a main argument for removing the headguards from competitions, it strikes me as strange that they would provide this safety for men only, and not for women. Is the removal of the headguard a question of the health and safety of amateur boxers? And if so, why aren’t women included (or even mentioned) in this discussion? Is it a matter of lingering gender inequalities in a sport plagued by masculine norms, traditions and domination? Or perhaps the most troubling perspective; is it simply a matter of power, commercialism and money – at the expense of the health and lives of amateur boxers around the globe?

Perhaps AIBA’s statistical research only includes male boxers and men’s competitions, and this is simply the reason why women are not included in the new rule changes. However, then it is about time to start devoting as much time and energy into research on the safety of female boxers as they are currently putting into research on male boxers.



AIBA (2016). “AIBA confirm Rio 2016 Olympic Games will be Headguard-free for the first time in 32 years”. Retrived 02.03.2016 from:

Stojsih, S., Boitano, M., Wilhelm, M. & Bir, C. (2008). A prospective study of punch biomechanics and cognitive function for amateur boxers. British Journal of Sports Medicine, doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2008.052845


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