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Bang bang: Eves to box at Olympics

It’s hard not to be driven mad by the sexism that still pervades the world of sport. When people talk about cricket, it’s taken as read that they mean the men’s team. Nor is sexism confined to cricket (or indeed football, which is just as dominated by overpaid male celebrities).

Just before the International Olympic Committee announced that women will be allowed to box in the 2012 Olympics — for the first time since 1904 — British boxer Amir Khan said that the prospect made him uneasy. “Deep down, I think women shouldn’t fight,” he said. “When you get hit it’s very painful. Women can get knocked out.”

So can men, of course, and what Khan is expressing is an age-old prejudice: the notion that there’s something manly about punching someone else in the head.

Boxing has become increasingly popular among young women in recent years. The most celebrated woman boxer in history is Muhammad Ali’s daughter Laila. Some young women regard learning to box as empowering, giving them confidence and challenging stereotypes about masculine and feminine behaviour.

That doesn’t mean there’s no problem. Obviously if men are allowed to box in the Olympics, women should be able to participate as well. While women who want to box are right to complain about the prejudice that’s kept them out of the Olympic arena until now, there are reasons for thinking that boxing isn’t a sport. There’s actually something quite sick about watching two people beating each other to a pulp, regardless of gender.

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