Olympic Boxing: "With This Ring" - a
new documentary lifts the lid on problems facing women boxers in
By Michael O'Neill
August 21, 2012
(AUG 21) Women's boxing was
one of the great success stories of London 2012 and not just
from an American, British or Irish viewpoint - indeed the sport’s
International Boxing Association (A.I.B.A) declared that the
introduction of women boxers – the last Olympic sport to include
both sexes – was considered to be one of the highlights of the
entire London 2012 Olympic Games, enticing spectators and media
from around the world to one of the hottest venues of the past
The Katie Taylor/Claressa Shields and Nicola Adams stories have
been featured in just about every corner of the earth and not
just in their home countries - and rightly so , yet here let us
look at the great achievement of another of the world’s finest
pugilists, Mary Kom from Manipur - pinweight Mary was one of
those who had to move up two weight classes just to qualify for
the Olympics but yet ‘Magnificent Mary’ managed to pull off a
Bronze behind new Olympic champion Nikki Adams and China’s world
title holder Cancan Ren.
Mary has long been one of the pioneers of women’s boxing and
indeed has won the World Championship crown on five occasions.
Mary and the other Indian women have come up against every
possible barrier in their home land to gain acceptance for
women’s boxing and have had to fight against numerous
prejudices. Later this year there will be a new documentary
“With This Ring” which should be compulsive viewing for every
boxer male or female and not only in India but worldwide. The
documentary’s producers Anna Sarkissian and Ameesha Joshi have
spent the past six years following the brave Indian women boxers
around the world, mainly at their own expense. So what
particular problems do the Indian women face?
Let Ameesha and Anna speaking from Canada tell us of some of the
many problems they do face and that will not go away
“immediately” despite Mary Kom’s bronze in London.
“The 35-strong Indian women's national boxing team trains
year-round, six days a week in blistering heat and heavy
downpours. As you can imagine, women's boxing is neither popular
nor widely accepted in India, where many women are pressured to
marry and abandon their career aspirations.
They are some of the best boxers in the world. And the most
These women are trailblazers in the purest sense, who can
inspire others around the world to step out of the mold and
pursue their passion. Though some women have risen to power and
achieved prominence in India, many are still treated like second
class citizens. The rate of female infanticide and sex-selective
abortions is alarming, to say the least. Though these issues are
complex and linked with religious, financial, and cultural
concerns, suffice it to say that these boxers have had their
share of hurdles and there is so much we can learn from their
Though Mary is now becoming a household name (finally!), the
other boxers train in relative anonymity, with little to no
recognition for their achievements. There are numerous world
champions (at different grades inc youth and junior) on the team
who started out with nothing and fought against centuries of
tradition to rise to the top. Without this film, their
inspirational stories would be cast into the shadows”.
“Young women in India are usually known as somebody’s sister,
daughter, wife or mother. For the first time, they are gaining
independence by setting their own goals, living independently,
and taking the world by storm.
Yes, some have short hair. And yes, they show their legs and
wear athletic gear–something which most Indians would frown
upon. As one woman that we interviewed put it, wearing shorts
amounts to “degrading women.”
Their parents are concerned. At least, they are at the
beginning. With bruises or scars on their face or hands, they
worry that their daughters will never marry. The importance of
holy matrimony cannot be underestimated in India. It’s the most
important day of your life.
Then, the boxers start winning. In the case of five-time world
champion Mary Kom, her parents only found out she was a fighter
when they saw her picture in the newspaper. Her father wasn’t
pleased. Mary is now the most successful amateur boxer (male or
female) in history and supports her husband and two children
financially. Her family came around.
Boxing isn’t all about glory or world championships. Many of
these women are boxing to get out of poverty. Successful
athletes are often rewarded with government jobs in the railway
or police force, complete with pensions and benefits. It’s
almost like hitting the jackpot.
All this doesn’t come easy. The Indian women’s national boxing
team, composed of about 35 boxers, trains year-round. Whether
it’s 50 degrees or 5 degrees, they wake up at dawn and start
working. They generally train two to three times a day, six days
a week, for up to 2 hours at a time.
Some of the boxers are also in school at the same time. Their
schedule goes something like this: train, eat breakfast, school,
train, eat lunch, school, dinner, train, sleep. It’s non-stop “.
True, all women have had to fight against prejudice for many
years to even get to the Olympics, and many great former
champions have never made it , but few have faced the struggle
that Mary Kom has - she became India’s first ever women’s
Olympic medallist – against all the odds.