Tyrieshia Douglas would love to box in the Olympics wearing a short skirt. Not because she has to, but because she wants to.
“We’re women, and women should be wearing a woman’s uniform,” said Douglas, the 23-year-old flyweight from Baltimore who survived a rough childhood in foster care to win silver medals at the last two national championships.
Douglas realizes she’s in the minority among female boxers and much of the international sports community, which reacted with outrage and sexism charges when amateur boxing’s governing body encouraged women to wear skirts in recent competitions.
Yet if Douglas wins the U.S. team trials this week and eventually qualifies for the London Games, the 112-pound fighter would be eager to wear a skirt in the first Olympic women’s boxing tournament. She agrees with International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) officials who have suggested skirts would make women more easily identifiable in the ring.
“I mean, women can wear shorts, but it’s boxing,” Douglas said. “We need to look more feminine. Under the headgear, you don’t know if it’s a man or a woman if we don’t have any boobs. You don’t know until we take off the headgear. ‘Was that a girl? Yeah, that was a girl.’ We’re women, and we need to let people know we’re women, because you can’t tell.”
While AIBA officials are expected to issue recommendations on this issue within the next week, the organization says its discussion of women’s uniforms has been incorrectly perceived by outsiders who thought skirts might be required in competition.
In an email, AIBA spokesman Sebastien Gillot said the organization never had any intention of making skirts mandatory, as many detractors apparently believe. AIBA insists it has been merely discussing the issue after hearing the complaint cited by Douglas and other amateur boxing fans who claim they can’t tell which fighters are women, particularly when watching on television.
Gillot said the organization’s rules commission came up with recommendations that were discussed by AIBA’s top brass last month at its commission meetings in Thailand. Those recommendations will be proposed to another executive committee for a decision within the next several days.
Recommendations aren’t rules, and most fighters have said they would ignore any AIBA encouragement to wear a skirt. At most, the London Olympics seem likely to feature the wide majority of the 36 female fighters in shorts, with perhaps a few wearing skirts voluntarily.
“When I go to the Olympics, I’ll be wearing shorts,” said Christina Cruz, who will compete with Douglas and six-time national champion Marlen Esparza for the sole flyweight position on the U.S. team.
AIBA President Wu Ching-Kuo, who has been praised for bringing more transparency to a governing body long considered endemically corrupt, received international condemnation for even suggesting skirts. Yet Douglas isn’t the only fighter who agrees with the idea.
Fighters from Poland and Romania wore the skirts in last year’s European Championships, and the Polish entrants in an international friendly in Oxnard, California, last December were still wearing the outfits, which apparently were adopted by their national governing body.
Mary Kom, a world champion fighter from India, has also spoken in favor of skirts, comparing fighters to female competitors in tennis and badminton who wear gender-specific uniforms — although the Badminton World Federation last year abandoned a rule that would have forced women to wear skirts or dresses amid widespread criticism. Laura Saperstein, an Australian who has fought professionally in England and now designs boxing kits, told the BBC skirts are more comfortable and athletically advantageous.
Other fighters and women’s sports advocates find this debate old-fashioned at best — and destructive at worst.
A petition set up on change.org by Canadian amateur boxer Elizabeth Plank asking AIBA to abandon any plans for a dress code has more than 57,000 signatures. Katie Taylor, Ireland’s three-time world champion, memorably said she doesn’t even wear a miniskirt when she’s going out in the evening, so she has no intention of dressing up for Olympic judges.
“Boxing is mental, so if you go in there and you’re not comfortable, it could mess with you,” Cruz said. “I think it should just be optional. We should be able to fight in whatever we’re comfortable in. What they want to do is they want to be able to pick out the men from the women, because we are fighting like the men now. But when we take off that headgear, that’s what makes us what we are.”