Ban on bearded amateur boxers in England to be lifted

By Greg O'KeeffeBBC Sport
Karam Singh in the ring with trainer Wayne Elcock in Birmingham
Sikh fighter Karam Singh (left), in the ring with trainer Wayne Elcock, can't wait to pursue his amateur boxing dream now the ban on beards has been lifted

Bearded amateur boxers in England will be allowed to compete without having to remove their facial hair after the governing body agreed to abolish a long-standing rule.

Previously, fighters were required to be clean shaven, partly so that cuts to the face could be seen.

Sikh and Muslim groups had been campaigning for a change in the rules.

England Boxing, which governs the sport at amateur level, will end restrictions from 1 June to be "more inclusive".

It will also "continue to lobby" the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) with a view to changing the rule at international level.

Chief executive Gethin Jenkins said: "Boxing is rightly proud of its diversity and we hope by changing this rule we continue with our attempts to be as inclusive as possible."

The British Boxing Board of Control, which oversees professional boxing in Britain, has no ban on facial hair.

"We removed a similar rule a long time ago," said general secretary Robert Smith. "It was only reasonable and common sense to lift it."

However, while professional boxers can compete with facial hair, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) prohibits boxers with beards or moustaches.

'It should not be a case of choosing religion or boxing'

The Sikh faith considers hair sacred as part of God's creation. Maintaining uncut hair all over their bodies is one of the five articles of faith for Sikhs, both men and women.

Indi Singh, 30, coaches for the Sikh Ethos combat sports organisation, which has 11 boxing clubs across England, and he also runs the Khalsa Akhara Coventry boxing club.

He approached England Boxing about the beard ban in November.

"There are so many young Sikhs aspiring to box who have previously been held back by the rule," he said. "They had the prospect of no amateur experience unless they compromised their beliefs.

"Sikhs have always had the heart and the mentality and now we have got the opportunity to get better.

"Now that the doors are open for all in England, we expect to see future Sikhs competing on the international amateur boxing circuit.

"We will take up this issue with AIBA. We are also planning to take it up with India's amateur boxing association via our India team."

Young boxers at the Khalsa Akhara Coventry boxing club
Young boxers at the Khalsa Akhara Coventry boxing club now have the chance to hone their skills by fighting as amateurs

Dr Harbir Singh is a London-based osteopath who boxed as an amateur in his teens, and worked at the 2012 London Olympics as a medic.

He has studied the medical evidence behind the ban in an attempt to debunk suggestions that it was about hygiene or that facial hair could provide cushioning.

"None of it stacked up," he said. "Just because a rule was in place a long time ago doesn't mean it should continue unchallenged.

"Times have moved on and this is good for boxing. It'll be even better when AIBA and the IOC hopefully follow suit."

Karam Singh is one fighter who is set to benefit from the change.

The 20-year-old from Walsall trains at an academy run by former British and WBU middleweight champion Wayne Elcock.

"If 1 June is a Saturday and they can get me a fight, then I'll fight then," he said. "My dream is to be a professional and I'm so happy I can now get the amateur experience I need.

"I'll likely be the first Sikh to box with a beard in the amateurs and maybe as a professional. I want to be a positive role model.

"My religious beliefs made me the man I am today. Boxing has really helped me too but it should not be a case of either or."

The Quran does not prescribe beards for Muslims, but the Prophet Muhammad wore one and many followers feel it is therefore important to be bearded.

Inayat Omarji, from the Bolton Council of Mosques,external-link has seen disenchanted youngsters walk away from the sport because of the ban.

"It's brilliant but it should have happened a long time ago," he said. "I've known fighters be told to shave or they couldn't box and they've quit in disappointment. Thankfully that won't happen any more."

The AIBA has yet to respond to requests for a comment.

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