Cuba to allow female boxers to compete for first time in six decades

HAVANA, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Boxing powerhouse Cuba has given the green light to women who wish to partake in tournaments for the first time since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, sports officials said on Monday.

The Caribbean island - long hailed for its top-ranked men's boxers - has won 41 gold medals in the Olympic games since Munich in 1972, topping global charts.

But Cuba's aspiring women boxers - for decades banned from competing in competition - until now have had no choice but to migrate to reach the highest levels of their sport.

"Women's boxing in Cuba... is going to bring us to the international medal table," said Ariel Saínz, vice president of Cuba's Institute of Sports (INDER), at a news conference, after announcing the government's decision to legalize participation by women in the sport.

Sainz said Cuba's recently approved family code, a set of regulations aimed at wiping out discrimination against women and the LGBT community in Cuba's "machista" culture, provided the legal underpinnings for the move.

"We have a {law} now that assures equality between men and women," Sainz said.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced in 2009 that women could begin competing in boxing in the Games. Three years later the first female boxers competed in the London 2012 Games, and later in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020.

Cuba was until now one of a handful of countries that did not practice women's boxing among the 202 nations affiliated with the International Boxing Association (IBA).

"We have lost time, but we will make up for it," said Alberto Puig, president of the Cuban Boxing Federation.

Authorities on Monday did not say why women were prohibited from boxing in Cuba. Women on the island are allowed to take part in wrestling, weightlifting, karate, taekwondo and judo.

The addition of boxing quickly made waves in gyms in the Cuban capital of Havana, where for years women have trained, only to be forced to leave the island if they wished to compete.

"After years of sacrifice and effort, the flame of boxing was beginning to flicker out for me," said Legnis Cala, a 57-kg left-handed boxer who strapped on her gloves with the news and began to pound a gym sandbag.

"This is a dream come true for me."

Reporting by Nelson Acosta, editing by Dave Sherwood and Chritian Radnedge

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