March 01, 2012

(AP) -- Female boxers at the London Olympics will be allowed to wear either a skirt or shorts under a new amendment to amateur boxing rules.

The International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) quietly updated several rules on its website Thursday. The governing body's final decision stopped far short of requiring or even recommending skirts to the athletes in the first Olympic women's boxing tournament this summer.

In a new sentence in the Competition Uniform section, AIBA ruled that female boxers will wear "either shorts or the option of a skirt." The new rule specifies no particular length for the skirt.

Over the past year, AIBA faced international criticism and sexism charges for encouraging female fighters to try wearing skirts in competition. AIBA President Wu Ching-Kuo said he heard from fans and amateur boxing officials who claimed they couldn't tell women from men, particularly on television, because fighters wear the same protective headgear.

Although AIBA insisted it never contemplated requiring boxers to wear skirts, its debate of the issue enraged women's rights advocates in recent months. The debate also divided boxers and their coaches in a sport still struggling for worldwide acceptance after women's boxing was added to the Olympic program in 2009.

After AIBA encouraged women to try skirts, fighters from Poland and Romania wore the outfits in last year's European Championships, and prominent Indian boxer Mary Kom said she didn't see a problem with skirts. Most fighters from Western nations rejected the suggestion as sexist, including Irish three-time world champion Katie Taylor and several prominent American fighters.

But Marlen Esparza, the six-time U.S. national champion who won the flyweight division at the U.S. Olympic team trials last month outside Spokane, told The Associated Press she would think about wearing a skirt in future competitions if AIBA recommended it. Esparza even leaned toward wearing a skirt, saying she planned to be receptive to AIBA's wishes even if she was criticized by other athletes.

Boxing was the only summer Olympic sport without a female analogue, and the sport still struggles for legitimacy in many countries. Cuba, a longtime powerhouse in Olympic boxing, has refused to field a women's team in London, with coach Pedro Roque infamously saying women should be "showing off their beautiful faces, not getting punched in the face."

Although AIBA has been criticized over its skirt advocacy, the organization drove the addition of women's boxing to the Olympics. The London field will feature 36 fighters in three weight classes.

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