Yesterday[i] the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved the program for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. The new Olympic program promises a more inclusive, youthful, urban and gender equal sporting mega event. Among the news is the introduction of five new sports: skateboarding, surfing, sport climbing, karate and baseball/softball. Tokyo 2020 also introduces a variety of new gender mixed events in excisting sports such as swimming, archery, triathlon and Judo.
With Tokyo 2020 we will also see the highest representation of female athletes in Olympic history with the women’s participation rate increasing from 45.6% in Rio 2016 to 48.8% in 2020. A part of the changes from the Rio 2016 Games affects the boxing event substantially. While IOC is reducing the number of athletes[ii] as a means of reducing the footprint of the Olympic Games, and this is a good initiative as there is a growing body of research addressing the local impact of the Olympics[iii], it is increasing the number of women boxers.
Prior to the Olympic Games in 2012, boxing was the only summer event that excluded the participation of women. In 2012, the London Olympic Games made Olympic history as the first Games to include women’s boxing on the program. However, only three weight categories for women were included; Flyweight (51kg), Lightweight (60kg) and Middleweight (75kg). Normally, women compete in ten weight categories ranging from 45kg to 81+ kg. While the male boxers competed in all ten of their weight categories. Consequently, there was a very uneven balance of male and female athletes in the Olympic boxing event, with only 36 women boxers to approximently 250 male boxers. Additionally, the introduction of women’s boxing in the Olympics was marked by controversy regarding the women’s competition outfits, where at one point AIBA suggested that the female athletes should be made to wear skirts instead of traditional boxing trunks.
After the London 2012 Olympic Games many hoped for an increased number of female athletes for Rio 2016, but no changes were made to the female categories. Therefore, while a few women did gain entrance to the Olympics, international elite boxing is still marked by gender inequality, exclusion and marginalization of women. AIBA has widened the gender inequality gap with the introduction of their new competitions formats: the World Series of Boxing (WSB) and AIBA Pro Boxing (APB), competitions exclusively engaged in by male athletes.
While it is sad for any boxing fan to see the male boxers loose two of their weight categories in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, it is a great step for gender equality in international elite boxing to see the women gain 44 athletes in the upcoming Games. This will reduce the gender inequality gap in the boxing event to 80 female athletes versus approximately 200-210 male athletes. The men’s weight categories for Tokyo 2020 is yet to be confirmed, but the women’s five categories have already been decided. In addition to the three weight categories from London 2012 and Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020 will include Featherweight (57kg) and Welterweight (69kg):
Hopefully, the steps IOC and AIBA have taken towards a more inclusive Olympic Games in 2020 will inspire more women to take up the sport of boxing, and push national boxing federations to spend more resources on developing their female elite athletes.
In Tokyo 2020 we will see the highest female representation in Olympic history. It will also include the highest number of female boxers ever in the Olympics. However, 80 female boxers to 200+ male boxers hardly represents true inclusion and gender equality in sport.
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IOC (2017a) TOKYO 2020 EVENT PROGRAMME TO SEE MAJOR BOOST FOR FEMALE PARTICIPATION, YOUTH AND URBAN APPEAL. Available at: https://www.olympic.org/news/tokyo-2020-event-programme-to-see-major-boost-for-female-participation-youth-and-urban-appeal (accessed 9 June 2017).
IOC (2017b) Tokyo 2017 event program. Available at: https://stillmed.olympic.org/media/Document%20Library/OlympicOrg/Games/Summer-Games/Games-Tokyo-2020-Olympic-Games/Tokyo-2020-event-programme.pdf#_ga=2.267975118.151385870.1497030345-510777018.1497030345 (accessed 10 June 2017).
Tjønndal A (2017a) ‘I don’t think they realise how good we are’: innovation, inclusion and exclusion in women’s Olympic boxing. International Review for the Sociology of Sport (in press).
Tjønndal A (2017b). Modern Female Fighters: barriers women face in boxing. In Milner A and Braddock J H (eds.) Women in Sports – Breaking Barriers, Facing Obstacles. Conneticut: Prager (in press, published August 2017).
Tjønndal A (2016d) The Inclusion of Women’s Boxing in The Olympic Games: a Qualitative Content Analysis of Gender and Power in Boxing, Qualitative Sociology Review 12 (3).
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[i] June 9th 2017
[ii] An overall reduction of 285 athletes from Rio 2016.
[iii] See for instance: Gaffney 2010, 2012, 2013; Travers, 2011; Vanwynsberghe et. al., 2012; Bernard and Busse, 2006