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SAM STOREY'S PUNCHLINE: LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE GIRLS; They're in the ring and they're here to stay.

Byline: SAM STOREY

NIKE estimated a $40m worldwide sale of its sports bra when United States soccer player Mia Hamm scored the goal that gave her nation the Women's World Cup title in 1999.

Hamm, the face of women's soccer, is someone most Americans have heard of.

She appears on credit cards. Barbie have made dolls in her image - and other members of the team which beat Brazil in a final watched by millions coast-to-coast.

Women playing soccer is not a new concept.

They've been doing it for years in the United States and in Scandinavia.

Still in its infancy, but reportedly growing fast, is women's boxing.

The very idea of females fighting is an issue that divides many within the sport.

Some are for it, some against it. Some couldn't care less.

Right now I fall into the last category, that is until a day I find myself drawn towards purchasing a ticket to watch two women fight.

I am not at all against women boxing.

People connected to the sport have tried to stop women donning gloves but I believe no individual and no organisation has the right to stop any female from setting out to live the life of a fighter.

The British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) suffered one of its heaviest blows when the women's welterweight champion Jane Couch, an English girl, won a big discrimination case recently.

The board had prevented her from gaining a licence to fight in the UK.

Why it took such action is beyond comprehension.

This was a case the board was always going to lose, especially in this age of equality.

For many years the Americans have been promoting women in sport.

Many make a living from soccer and now, with 300 professional and 5,000 amateur boxers, the US is leading the way in female boxing.

The BBBC should have taken note of just how big the sport is for women across the Atlantic before it took the Stone Age decision to stop Couch from earning an honest living in the ring.

Recently the daughters of Mohammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Laila Ali and Jackie Frazier-Lyde, fought in front of a pay-per-view audience of 100,000, with each fighter earning an estimated $1m.

Now there are many male fighters who might never earn that sort of money, but I suppose when the daughters of two of the greatest male fighters go toe to toe, there's more to it than just a boxing match.

According to reports though it was a cracking eight round battle and has worked wonders for female boxing.

It is a fact that my own gym, Holy Family, is seeking new premises (in part) to provide a platform for young and eager girls to develop boxing skills.

There appears to be a demand in Ireland for coaching but unfortunately in the case of my gym not the time or the space to provide it.

That young girls have role models like Couch, Ali, Frazier and our own Deidre Nelson, is only positive for the sport.

Promoters like Frank Warren and Frank Maloney have both rejected the idea of women fighting but I'll bet that if there comes a time when two women can attract major network coverage and a live audience as they have done in the States, the same two men will be first in the queue to get involved.

When Couch first burst on to the scene in 1996, she fought in front of a 3.5m European TV audience.

But she is earning a petty average of around pounds 500 per fight.

Who's to say she does not deserve to earn as much as a male fighter?

She is after all a world champion and puts in the same amount of training and lives the same life as any top fighter of the opposite sex.

Boxers dream about fighting for major titles all over the world.

They all share an instinct to fight and survive and any woman who chooses to box is no different.

So why should they be treated any differently?

CAPTION(S):

PLEASED AS PUNCH: British welterweight Jane Couch won her case against the BBBC
COPYRIGHT 2001 MGN LTD
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Sep 23, 2001
Words:696
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