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News of struggle for gender equality in Olympics

Amateur boxing

Women's amateur boxing is the first candidate for the Olympic programme

British female minister fights for equality in Olympics

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Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell wants to change the rules which stop women competing in some events.

A drive for sexual equality in sports could see female boxers and Greco-Roman wrestlers as well as male synchronized swimmers and rhythmic gymnasts in Olympics.

The prospect of men competing in traditionally female events - and women taking part in more 'masculine' sports - has been raised by Olympics minister Tessa Jowell. She has written to sports chiefs asking them to put pressure on the International Olympics Committee to end what she calls 'gender inequality'.

If 'fair access' is adopted across the Olympic movement, it would mean all sports categories being opened to both sexes. That could see all-male synchronized swimming competitions and all-male rhythmic gymnastics taking place in London in 2012. If would also mean that female athletes would be able to take part in Greco-Roman wrestling and boxing, which are both currently men-only.

Miss Jowell said that over a third of the 34 events across the 26 sports in the Olympic programme reflected some kind of gender discrepancy. In Paralympic sports this was nearer 50 per cent.

After last year's Olympics in Beijing, the gold medal-winning British cyclist Victoria Pendleton complained she was denied the chance to match Chris Hoy's triple gold triumph as she was restricted to one race only.

Miss Pendleton, 28, said afterwards: 'My life hasn't changed in the way Chris Hoy's has, not because I didn't work as hard, nor because I don't possess the same amount of talent, but because I wasn't given the opportunity. That really sucks and it's all down to the fact that I was born a female.' Whereas male cyclists competed in three sprint events (the team sprint, keirin and individual sprint), for women there was only the individual sprint.

Though gymnastics and swimming both contain events in which only women can compete, Miss Jowell said she initially wants to change the practice of barring women from boxing as well as from certain events within canoeing, cycling, rowing, shooting and wrestling. She said: 'I think it's wrong that women can't compete in as many events as men. Women's sport has come on leaps and bounds so it's high time there was equal opportunity at the Olympics.'

Although her actions will be welcomed by many sportswomen, yesterday the minister's enthusiasm was not matched by all the affected sports. Malcolm Morley, of the British Wrestling Association, admitted that very few of his organization's members had expressed a desire to see female Greco-Roman wrestling bouts. He said: 'Including schoolchildren I would say there are around 50 or 60 female wrestlers in Britain. I can't say that this desire for equality is being driven from the grass roots.' A spokesman for UK Sport confirmed that it had received Mrs. Jowell's letter. He said that UK Sport would work with the individual sports body to put pressure on the IOC.

The IOC has the final say on whether to change the entry criteria for an Olympic sport.

Tessa Jowell
Tessa Jowell

Greco-Roman wrestling
Greco-Roman wrestling

Rythmic gymnastics
Rythmic gymnastics

Synchronized swimming
Synchronized swimming

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