Transgender boxing: WBC’s proposals for transgender category draws mixed response

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Transgender boxer Baker on how sport changed his life

The World Boxing Council, one of the major sanctioning bodies in boxing, has proposed that transgender boxers should have their own division rather than fight in the existing male or female categories.

The WBC is the first of boxing’s major organizations to join other sports in considering the introduction of transgender participation legislation and to announce proposals for a specific category for transgender fighters.

The proposals, which were announced in December and remain largely hypothetical, have drawn mixed reactions from transgender boxers.

Critics have called the move “dehumanizing” transgender athletes, saying it promotes permanent segregation and is unnecessary as the WBC does not have a single transgender boxer it sanctions.

The WBC oversees fights at the elite level – former world heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder had 25 pro fights before fighting for his first WBC title.

WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman says “safety is our priority” in introducing transgender categories and that this was done to “allow any athlete who wants to box to participate in the sport they love”.

The WBC told BBC Sport the decision was also made without input from transgender athletes or organizations and the panel has yet to commission specific medical studies into transgender athletes competing in boxing.

Proponents argue that it will allow transgender athletes to show off their abilities as athletes.

“The WBC opens the door for us instead of closing and locking it,” said British transgender boxer Danny Baker.

But another transgender boxer, American pioneer Patricio Manuel, doesn’t share the same view, saying: “It was heartbreaking that the WBC, a leader in my sport, argued that as a man I have no place in the ring. “

“That doesn’t make us any less manly”

Among the boxers who could be affected by the proposals is Baker, one of the few transgender athletes to fight at amateur level in the UK.

“I’m a man, if I fight a trans man they’re a man, that doesn’t make us any less masculine,” he told BBC Sport.

The 35-year-old says boxing saved his life after serving time in jail and jail three years ago.

He says he struggled to find acceptance and meaning growing up in Essex and believes the WBC’s proposals are a positive step that can help young people believe they can find acceptance in boxing.

“It means a lot to me, it means even more to the community,” Baker said.

“It gives officials and other people in boxing a chance to see what we can do, that we have the skill and the drive.

“The opening of a category by the WBC gives us something to work towards at a world level.”

Sulaiman says the WBC proposed the new category after seeing other governing bodies introduce new laws regarding transgender participants.

Sports governing bodies have recently come under pressure to allow transgender athletes to compete in the gender category they identify with and to consider how this would affect fairness.

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Danny Baker struggles in the amateur scene

World swimming governing body Fina voted last June to limit the participation of transgender athletes in elite women’s competitions, along with proposals for an “open” category.

New legislation has also been proposed or introduced in the areas of rugby union and rugby league, cycling and athletics.

Sulaiman said they tried to balance inclusion with safety, which led them to “completely ban” what he called “born man versus born woman.”

“Then we went for inclusion, any athlete who wants to box can participate in the sport they love and we have taken different measures to do that,” he said.

The proposals have not gone down well everywhere.

In December 2018, Manuel became the first transgender boxer in the US to have a professional fight, beating Hugo Aguilar by unanimous decision after a four-round bout.

The 37-year-old, who was a five-time national amateur champion as a woman and represented the United States at the 2012 Olympic Trials, said at a time of increasing discrimination against transgender people in the United States, this is a new category that would cause further problems.

“I’m grateful to have had nothing but support and camaraderie from these boxers and their trainers, who saw and respected me for the man I am,” he said.

“In reality, the WBC inherently dehumanizes transgender people by implying that trans men are not men and trans women are not women.

“This rhetoric contradicts both existing policy at the highest level of governing bodies in the world of sport and my own lived experience.”

A transgender category – but where are the fighters?

The increased awareness of transgender people in boxing has meant a steep learning curve for those involved in the sport for many years.

Steve Kipps has been a professional boxing trainer since 1999 and trained Baker at Enfield for 10 months.

He supports the WBC, and while he thinks transgender male boxers could compete against their peers in the male category, he believes the proposals have the potential to benefit transgender athletes.

“I didn’t know Danny was trans at first. I wouldn’t have a problem with him fighting a man,” said the 61-year-old.

Kipps says he’s seen a significant increase in the number of transgender men and boys boxing at his gym, including one who traveled from Wolverhampton before finding a more welcoming training environment closer to home.

Baker says he regularly gets messages on social media from young transgender people who would like to take up the sport – something he couldn’t do as a child.

Manuel and Baker also agree on this point.

Manuel hasn’t fought professionally in more than four years, but says he regularly spars against male professionals, and it shows how “boxing emphasizes what’s in your heart, not what’s in your pants.”

Having announced their intention to create this category, the WBC now needs to find boxers who can compete at the elite level.

Sulaiman says it is working to understand how many boxers might participate and has promised to engage with experts on transgender participation in sport to shape the category.

It remains to be seen whether the category will be a league, a championship, or just an undercard fight, but Sulaiman insisted the WBC would approach it with “passion and diligence.”

image source, Golden Boy Actions

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Patricio Manuel became the first transgender boxer to make his professional debut in 2018

However, he is convinced of the proposals and tells BBC Sport that draft promotional graphics, including a logo, are already in the works, along with social media and other marketing materials.

The issue of “security”.

The WBC has previously introduced measures in women’s boxing that have become the sport’s standard, such as two-minute rounds instead of three and 10 rounds instead of 12.

Sulaiman said the WBC’s studies of female fighters helped inform his plans for a transgender category, but he did not consult with transgender sports medical experts or with transgender athletes themselves before making the decision.

“Women are different from men in many ways – muscular, bone structure, hormonal,” he said. “So it was decided never to allow a woman to fight a man.”

Pressed further on the specific decision basis for transgender athletes, Sulaiman said, “The WBC deals with boxing matters and is comfortable using data and opinions from our medical committee and their knowledge from studies.

“We’ve followed transgender activity in many other sports.”

BBC Sport also contacted the WBC to ask who sat on the medical committee, with no response at the time of publication.

Other policies from sports governing bodies such as the International Olympic Committee and USA Boxing sanction transgender men from fighting non-transgender men and transgender women from fighting non-transgender women, based on research by medical experts such as American Medical Association .

However, Baker strongly supports the WBC approach, saying, “It’s dangerous to go into a pro category.

“I think Mauricio did us a favor. I think we’ll be ok in that category to go pro, it can happen, it’s trial and error.”

Manuel said the decision contradicted boxing’s long-established societal role of giving those without opportunities a chance in the sport.

He believes that a greater focus on the development of amateur boxers would be more valuable for everyone than creating an elite category that could sit vacant for some time.

“This is an opportunity for the WBC and its leaders to better embody their own values ​​against bullying and discrimination,” he said.

What’s the future like?

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Baker trains with Steve Kips at Enfield

One area of ​​the proposal that needs further definition is whether a transgender boxer could move out of the transgender specific category in the future.

Baker hopes that will be the case, saying, “I fight cis [Cisgender] men now. I’m happy fighting trans men, I don’t think it will be forever.”

However, Sulaiman has come to suppress suggestions that the category could be a stepping stone.

“It would be speculative to say someone can be competitive, it would be irresponsible,” he said.

“We’re talking about punches… I don’t see how a born woman can compete against a born man without losing security.”

While athlete safety is a common word used by Sulaiman and others in sports administration, specific medical studies are lacking.

Baker believes that many transgender athletes are latecomers to the sport and therefore do not have the same years of training as their potential rivals.

He credits boxing for saving his life – he describes the process of coming to terms with one’s gender identity as a mental “blast” – and hopes more transgender people can come to the sport as a safe place.

“I think more people will come out or think, ‘There’s a chance for me to start boxing.’ The transition slows you down, especially when you’re younger, your brain explodes,” he said.

“I was in prison 13 times before I was 25. If I had been introduced to boxing back then, I would not have gone to jail.

“The team around me treats me as a person. They taught me the art of boxing, there was a lot of love, it kept my sanity.

“As a younger person I was lost and boxing saved me.”

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