Female Combat Sports and the Olympic Games
While competitive female athletes have been gaining recognition worldwide thanks to the likes of Serena Williams and Katie Ledecky, there is still one area in which women are eyed very warily: combat sports. Women in combat sport have fewer spectators than men, receive less sponsorship and also enjoy less recognition than their male counterparts. They are, however, through inclusion in the Olympic Games, slowly cementing themselves as serious competitors in their various fields. Six-time World Jiu-Jitsu champion, Leticia Ribeiro is just one such woman who has successfully made her mark in the world of combat sports and is paving the way for many aspiring athletes from across the world.
Over the past few years, and thanks to movies like Million Dollar Baby and women taking to the UFC stage, female fighters have slowly crept into the limelight. Despite how the media portrays today’s female fighters, women in combat sport are diverse and are by no means a new thing. In ancient Sparta women regularly trained and competed in sports like wrestling with female boxers fighting for the right to compete since the early 1700’s. Combat sport has for decades formed part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle and is now fast becoming the first choice fitness activity for many women around the world. Even though women are now allowed to, almost freely, compete in combat sports at a competitive level, the battle for equal representation and respect is far from over.
Although women have been competing in various forms of wrestling all over the globe since ancient times, women’s wrestling was not introduced into the modern Olympics until the 2004 games in Athens. During the Rio Olympics, women’s wrestling received a significant amount of media attention with the likes of Adeline Gray and Battsetseg Soronzonbold appearing in many print and online publications. While the world may finally show interest in women’s wrestling as a competitive sport, the media has to step up their involvement a lot by featuring the faces of modern women’s wrestling more to enable young aspiring wrestlers to be more inspired to reach their dreams.
While wrestling may be one of the oldest Olympic sports, a lot of modern-day female fighters will be able to trace their journeys back to the 1900’s when men and women alike were captivated by the sport of boxing. The 1920’s saw the rise of many professional female boxers in the UK, USA and France and by 1923 female fighters were welcomed into the New York Golden Glove Tournament. Women’s boxing finally became one of the newest attractions at the London Olympics in 2012 as well as enjoying larger draws on various international circuits. One of 2016’s most notable female boxers who entered the ring in Rio was the USA’s Claressa Shields who is as well known for her outspoken nature as she is her veracity in the ring.
Another popular sport amongst female athletes is Jiu-Jitsu which has, unfortunately, not yet been included in the Olympic Games.Jiu-Jitsu finally made its debut at the 2014 Asian Beach Games in Phuket and has, since then, been included in the 2017 Asian Indoor Games in Turkmenistan, the inaugural 2017 World Beach Games in San Diego, California, as well as the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. Every avenue possible is being explored by the various global governing bodies with the 2024 summer Games being the current target.
The modern Olympic Games have done a lot to push the validity of female participation in combat sports by creating various avenues of opportunity and identifying role models for other girls who dare to dream big. With the next Olympics only set for 2020 we cannot wait for it to come soon enough to see how women’s combat sport has evolved.
Contributing Writer Jane Sandwood