Boxers with beard and facial hair will soon be able to compete in UK boxing ameteur tournaments, a move that would allow Sikh boxers who maintain their bodily hair as required by their faith to jump into the ring.
Last week, England Boxing confirmed the rule change on facial hair ban from 1 June.
“England Boxing has made the decision to remove the rule at domestic level and forms part of its aims to fully embrace inclusivity in the sport,” the outfit said in a statement released at its website on 13 March.
The boxing association also said that it would to lobby International Boxing Association (AIBA), originally the Association Internationale de Boxe Amateur,
to get the rule changed at an international level.
“After a number of queries from the membership including at the AGM, the issue was raised at England Boxing’s board meeting in December where it was agreed that the governing body should look into changing the rule and also write to the international federation – AIBA – to seek that they change so any boxers could potentially compete on the international stage,” the statement added.
Sikh ethos combat sport organisation Lions MMA took up the issue of England Boxing’s beard ban and began dialogue with England Boxing about it after seeing a growth in young Sikhs feeling restricted from progressing in the sport because of it, according to its statement, entitled ‘Amateur competitions now open to practicing Sikhs following rule change’, released via SikhPA.
Canada Boxing changed their own rules on a beard ban in the year 2000 following a court-case led by Sikh amateur boxing star Pardeep Singh, the statement added.
The move was welcomed by Sikh boxers like 20 year-old Karam Singh.
“I am looking to go professional soon – in the next two or three years. I could have done so before, but it would have been very dangerous without any amateur experience,” he told sports portal TalkSport.
Karam said he believed permitting amateur boxers to compete with beards opens the door to thousands of aspiring fighters.
“We are a warrior community. We have fought world wars. We have got our own rich history. If I didn’t have boxing I would have no discipline. My faith and my boxing are the two biggest things for me and they go hand in hand,” he said.
Karam’s talent caught the eye of former British middleweight champion Wayne Elcock, who now trains him in Birmingham.
Elcock told TalkSport: “He has definitely got natural ability and has a good chance of going very far, but obviously that was being stopped with the beard ban.”
The beard ban was put down to health and safety as England Boxing (previously the Amateur Boxing Association of England) felt facial hair could cause problems. Potential danger was identified if a boxer’s beard entered an opponent’s eye or an open cut. In addition it was feared that a cut underneath facial hair would be more difficult to stitch, the report added.
Until 2009 the beard ban included an exemption for Sikhs, allowing them to compete. However, the exemption did not extend to other religious groups and when a Muslim boxer from Bolton was stopped from competing he challenged the rule.
Instead of giving Mohammed Patel the right to fight with a beard the ABAE removed the Sikh community’s exemption such that both faiths were treated equally but the ban became absolute.
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