By Ronal Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES – The reasons might be nice, because nobody can argue that women need to be extremely safe if they’re going to partake in combat sports, but the time it took to make the decision was far too long.
Boxing has been an Olympic sport for women since the 2012 London Olympics, and Cuba has let three editions of the Games (held every four years) slip by before finally authorizing boxing as a women’s sport.
It was a bitter complaint that many people had already been making, apart from the country’s leaders, and some female boxers saw their best days pass before being given the opportunity to represent their country.
Here at Havana Times, we spoke about this issue six years ago and I gave the example of former Taekwondo fighter Namibia Flores, who won’t be able to go into the ring like she had wanted now with over 40 years on her back.
In fact, she was one of the people interviewed by the National Institute of Sports (INDER) before the final decision was made, and the woman from Matanzas said that she would like to fulfill her dream of officially stepping into the ring at an official event, as a trainer at least.
When it was her time, Flores had even asked for authorization from the Cuban Federation to be able to go and box professionally in the US, but she was never granted this opportunity.
Alberto Puig, the Federation’s president, told Havana Times six years ago that the proposal was still “under evaluation” and that a decision would “soon” be made on the matter.
At that time, there was a ray of hope because women were going to box alongside men at the World Series of Boxing, but the event disappeared, as did any interest in giving women the right to practice any sport they desire at any level. It was never forbidden for women, that’s true, but it wasn’t officially recognized either.
In fact, the latest announcement makes Cuba country number 187 on the list, out of the 202 that are members of the International Boxing Association (IBA) with women’s boxing being an official sport. It’s come far too late, especially when we’re talking about a sport that has given Cuba the most glory and medals at the Olympic Games.
Preconceptions and gender stereotypes that have existed for decades, shared by Puig himself even and the highest-ranking leaders in the country, were the main brakes, and not studies about the dangers of the ring, like they explained when they announced this change in policy.
Weightlifting for women was an Olympic sport for the first time at the 2000 Sydney Games and Cuba debuted its women’s team at the 2012 London Games (officially recognized since 2011), while women’s wrestling was officially recognized at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and Cuba took less time, taking part under the five rings in London.
In the case of boxing, all the experts say that this is a less dangerous sport than taekwondo or judo, as women fight with bigger gloves, helmets, mouth guards, vaginal and breast protection, but the ban remains.
The first Women’s World Boxing Championship was held in Scranton, US, in 2001, and it wasn’t until 10 years later, with hundreds of studies and proof in between, that women were given the green light to fight in the summer Games in London. It took Cuba a lot longer, and after analyzing everything that has happened since (there were no injuries at any of these tournaments, of youths or adults this year), they gave in.
IBA’s president, Umar Kremlev, had to come himself (by the way he’s the only Russian to head an international sports federation), for this to happen, delivering donations and meeting with Diaz-Canel too. I don’t want to get into politics, but it seems like we had to do something to make the Russians happy, and I’m not referring to the obvious right women have to play sports, but to go back on this whole business of “not touching a woman even with a flower petal.”
The objective now is for Cuban boxers to make their debut at the Central American and Caribbean Games in San Salvador and the Pan American Games in Santiago de Chile, both of which will take place next year.
But first there’s a national event that will be held next weekend, and twelve women will be chosen (two per weight category) to prioritize getting them ready for the six Olympic divisions, which will be repeated at the Central American and Pan American Games. Unlike summer tournaments, you don’t have to classify beforehand for regional fights, so countries can take a representative for each category.
The women’s trainer still hasn’t been selected, and they are training with the junior men’s team, at the Giraldo Cordova Cardin High Performance School, in eastern Havana.
For the 2023/2024 academic year, registrations will officially open at all sports schools for categories up to 15-16 years old, the first stage of the high-performance school, and for athletes to be real boxers, and not come from other sports, like they are at the moment and like they were for weightlifting and wrestling. It’s expected that boxing for girls will already be included in the 2024 National School Games.
Regarding adult boxers, the first National Championship will be held in November next year, after first dipping their toes and getting international experience at the Central American and Pan American Games, including the World Championship in May, where a woman might compete, Puig disclosed.
After that, another strategy will be drawn up in the run up to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, which they will have to qualify for in order for a Cuban woman to make their debut wearing gloves at this level.
Like with weightlifting and wrestling, it will take us a good while to put ourselves on the map of women’s boxing, but our women have gone above and beyond to prove that they give their all.
It has been a long and bitter wait, but the starter pistol has been shot, if only Namibia Flores is able to appease her frustration a little, and that this is the end of the wait for girls just like her.