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Jane Couch Tribunal hearing
Croydon, UK, 12 and 13 February 1998

The Inside Scoop - A Courtroom Diary

Jane Couch v The British Boxing Board of Control

Thursday the 12th February and proceedings begin as Jane Couch takes on the British Boxing Board of Control, alleging sexual discrimination over the boards refusal to grant her a license to fight in the UK.

Jane’s barrister ‘Dinah Rose’ opened by pointing towards a case of "classic gender stereotyping". Dinah went one by one, through the stated medical reasons of the boards refusal. These ranged from the possibility of non-malignant lumps appearing on the breasts to being unstable if suffering from PMT. She went on to say that the Board had no knowledge of Jane Couch’s medical condition, as they had never even examined her. A male applicant would be examined by one of the Board’s doctors prior to any license consideration.

Jane took the stand first and explained that she had been refused a license in June 1997, and that without such she was unable to fight on a mixed bill in the UK, and therefore not be able to promote herself in her chosen career. She also explained that she had to travel to the USA to fight and that the USA, like many other countries of the world had embraced women's boxing at a professional level.

It emerged that whilst women boxing events do take place in the UK, they are on an ‘un-licensed' basis and should one of the Board’s licensed personel take part, such as Trainers, Referees or Doctors, they may lose their license. Also that events licensed by the Board were the only ones which attracted Interest from broadcasters and sponsors etc. It was also shown that it is part of the Board’s charter to promote the safety of Boxing, and that by its refusal to grant Jane a license, was putting her more at risk

Trainer Tex Woodward confirmed that last December Jane had to turn down a fight on a high profile mixed bill at Londons Wembley Arena.

Called for the BBBC was Chairman ‘Leonard Read’ and General Secretary ‘John Morris’. Dinah Rose’s cross-examination certainly put them on the spot. Her cool on the mark approach hit nerves at every juncture. I have never before seen men squirm in such a way. She ripped at every one of the Boards reasons and buried them one by one. She had the gallery holding back outright laughter many times.

The witnesses found it very difficult to actually say "yes" when asked, "was reason for rejection because she was a woman?".

On Friday the Boards chief medical adviser ‘Dr. Adrian Whiteson’ found it difficult to actually answer a question. His constant meandering led to continued requests from both council and chair, that he "listen to the question carefully and make a direct reply".

All witnesses droned on many times that their advice on a world level, was that there should be scientific and factual medical evidence, to prove that Boxing was no more risky for women. Dinah Rose countered that it was a reasonable and logical assumption that because men are bigger and stronger there was every chance that it would show boxing to be more dangerous for men than for women. Would the Board then ban men from boxing?

What did emerge however, was perhaps the real reason behind the Boards decision. They were concerned that if a woman were seriously injured in the ring, there would be a public outcry putting the whole sport in jeopardy.

The actual judgement was reserved until a later date. From what I saw there is little doubt what the outcome will be. It was strictly a sex-discrimination case after all. A journalist told me that he found it very difficult to report on a balanced basis as the case was so ridiculously one sided.

The case is seen as a landmark that will soon ensure "safer womens boxing in the UK". Jane Couch is fast becoming a role model for the many women and girls entering the sport in the UK. Another chord has been struck for women’s rights.

Her quietly confident solicitor ‘Sarah Leslie’ quoted "Boxer Spice and Girl Power" as the ethic of the day.

John Bentham 15 February 1998

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