Fight for equality

MURRAY GREIG, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:45 AM ET

The Canadian Junior National boxing championships, wrapping up tomorrow afternoon at West Edmonton Mall's Fantasyland Hotel, have historically been the launching pad for young guns trying to fight their way to the next Olympics.

There's been a twist to this year's competition, however, because for the first time ever, the nation's best young female fighters can join their male counterparts in dreaming of Olympic glory.

Following last week's historic vote by the International Amateur Boxing Association in Milan, Italy, a bid to debut women's boxing at the the 2012 Games in London is being fast-tracked to the International Olympic Committee.

Boxing is currently the only one of 26 summer Olympic events without female competitors, but that will very likely change after AIBA president Ching-Kuo Wu announced that the organization's executive committee voted unanimously to submit a comprehensive bid to the IOC by mid March.

The IOC will vote on the proposal at its session in Copenhagen in October.

AIBA already has a sympathetic ear in Tessa Jowell, Britain's Olympic Sports Minister, who is campaigning hard for "complete gender equality at the London Games - including in the boxing ring."

"In the Olympic movement there should not be any discrimination - racial, sexual or political - so women (boxers) should have the right to compete in the Games," Wu said.

AIBA, which has governed women's amateur boxing globally since 1994, hopes to increase the number of regional qualifying events in anticipation of a crush for member nations to be included in the historic debut in London.

And Canada, it seems, will be right in the mix.

"I've been involved as a fighter and a coach for more than 20 years, and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that women's boxing would be an Olympic sport," said Betty Ali of Nanaimo, B.C., whose 17-year-old daughter Sahara is B.C.'s 57 kg champ.

"When I was fighting, women's bouts were dismissed as a sideshow, even at the small amateur events," said Ali. "We used to have to battle just to get female bouts included on the cards. But look at this event here in Edmonton - the best girls from coast to coast, getting equal billing with the guys. That's progress."

Controversial defeat

Alberta 81 kg champ Paul MacKenzie of Edmonton's Cougar Boxing Club was knocked out of the tournament Wednesday night after a controversial loss to southpaw Kyle Gross of Manitoba.

MacKenzie dropped the six-foot-three Gross with a ripping right that landed cleanly in the first round, but for some reason the third man in the ring called it a slip and didn't administer a standing eight count.

Gross got back into it in the second, but MacKenzie maintained a slight lead heading into the third. Midway through Round 3, Gross stepped on MacKenzie's right foot and landed a big cross that forced a standing eight.

The Edmontonian's left knee twisted violently, but he maintained his composure and was scoring with some big shots on the ropes when the ref inexplicably called for another standing eight.

According to amateur rules, two standing-eight counts in the same round ends the fight, so Gross was awarded the decision, even though MacKenzie was leading 21-19.

"It's a heartbreaker, but that's boxing," MacKenzie said afterwards. "I felt good, I was doing what I wanted to do, but when my knee twisted, it kind of turned things around. Still, I was shocked and disappointed with that second standing eight. I'm still trying to figure out why that happened."

MURRAY.GREIG@SUNMEDIA.CA


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