Laila Ali kicked off a national conference to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX at the University of Michigan.

"Title IX has given women the power to be whatever they want to be," Ali said Wednesday night, starting the three-day seminar with a keynote address. "We hope this conference will build awareness and appreciation for all that Title IX has done."

The daughter of Muhammad Ali is the president of the Women's Sports Foundation and a former boxer.

Title IX of the Education Amendment that passed on June 23, 1972, bans sex discrimination in all educational programs - including sports - that receive federal funding.

"It was a lack of opportunity, not a lack of interest, that kept girls out of sports for so long," Ali said. "If things were fair, we wouldn't have Title IX and we wouldn't have to be at this conference."

The 34-year-old Ali lamented that women will box for gold this summer at the London Olympics for the first time.

"I didn't have that opportunity when I started boxing," she said. "It's a big regret of mine that I couldn't be out there with Venus and Serena (Williams) and Lisa Leslie."

Julia Darnton introduced Ali before her speech at the Rackham Graduate School Amphitheater. The Michigan graduate, who earned a scholarship in rowing her sophomore year, said she has been motivated by Title IX to inspire women to take advantage of opportunities in sports.

"My whole life, I was able to idolize women athletes because of Title IX," Darnton said. "And because I grew up in Ann Arbor, I was able to see women playing soccer, volleyball, basketball and other sports at the University of Michigan. Now, I want to spend the rest of my life inspiring women athletes to live their dreams and thanks to Title IX, they can do that."

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, one of several scheduled speakers at the seminar, said the conference has made steady improvements toward the mission of Title IX. He said during the 1991-92 athletic season, 70 percent of Big Ten student-athletes were men and 30 percent were women.

"The good news is, it's 51 percent for men and 49 percent for women today," Delany said. "We've made progress."

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