Why do women boxers wear headguards?

Boxing has been a highlight of the 2022 Commonwealth Games – but why do men and women have different headguard rules? (Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Many will have been watching the boxing during the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

And you don’t need to be eagle-eyed to have noticed that male boxers weren’t wearing headguards during their rounds, while the women boxers were donning red and blue headgear.

You’d also be forgiven for being curious about the difference, and if there is a particular health and safety reason for it.

Here’s what we know.

Why do women boxers wear headguards – but male boxers don’t?

It’s set out in England Boxing’s 2022 rule book that women amateur boxers must wear headgear in matches.

On page 42, the rules state: ‘All male Senior Development Boxers and male Elite Boxers will box without head guards.

But boxing at the 2022 Commonwealth Games

Male amateur boxers no longer wear headguards (Photo by Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)

‘It is mandatory that all Minors (boys and girls), Schoolboys and Girls, Junior (boys and girls), Youth (boys and girls) and Senior Elite and Senior Development Females MUST wear head guards.’

Only certain brands of headguard can be worn during a match, and that they must be put on after entering the boxing ring – but not before.

The International Boxing Association (AIBA) also states the rule in its 2022 technical and competition rulebook.

But why are the rules this way?

Previously, all boxers had to wear headguards in amateur matches – which is what the type of boxing at the Olympic Games and at the 2022 Commonwealth Games is classified as.

Nicola Adams boxing at Rio 2016

Nicola Adams, of Team GB, wore headgear during her boxing matches at Rio 2016 (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Headguards were introduced in the early 1980s, following the tragic death of South Korean boxer Kim Duk-koo, who died due to injuries sustained during a boxing match.

However, it was concluded after some research that the headguards actually caused more injury – and there was a suggestion that they impacted boxers’ vision.

Therefore in 2013 the headguards were removed for male boxers.

In a statement, AIBA said at the time: ‘All available data indicated that the removal of headguard in Elite Men would result in a decreased number of concussions.’

Headguards were then removed from men’s boxing at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The rules are still different for female amateur boxers (Picture: Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)

Following the rule change, an observational study published in 2017 concurred that ‘the number of stoppages due to head blows was significantly decreased without headguards’.

In explanations for the disparity, it’s often cited that the research largely looked at men’s boxing, as the sport was older, so there wasn’t enough evidence to revoke the rule for women boxers.

In 2013, the Wall Street Journal wrote that then-chairman of the AIBA medical commission, Dr Charles Butler, explained that concussion was less of an issue with women fighters due to their strength.

However, in 2021, Nature reported that women sports players are at greater risk of traumatic brain injuries, and often ‘fare worse’ after a concussion, than their male counterparts.

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