East Yorkshire-based photographer Lee Karen Stow’s studies of girls as young as 11 who are taking part in the increasingly popular sport of female amateur boxing have been given a seal of approval by the London 2012 Inspire programme.
This seeks to recognise “innovative and exceptional” projects, directly inspired by this year’s Olympics.
Lee first came across women boxing in Sierra Leone, where she was working on a different project, around the time that the International Olympic Committee made the decision to lift the ban on women’s boxing for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games.
She has been following members of the national team for over four years.
The African women don’t have equipment, medical back-up, or even the right food, and have to overcome prejudice to take part.
Lee has tried to get some of them to come over to the UK to take part for a summer camp, but they couldn’t get backing.
She said: “In the past I’ve taken gloves, helmets and mouthguards which have been donated to me by people in Hull and beyond and it was our dream to get even just two of them over here, Hull would have welcomed them with open arms.”
Her latest project, however, Girls in the Ring, funded by Arts Council England and Hull City Arts, focuses on Yorkshire’s female boxers, including Nicola Adams from Leeds, ranked third in the world and a London 2012 hopeful.
She has also photographed 11-year-old Abbie-Jo Longley, the youngest carded female fighter in Hull and a rising star, and caught up with 82-year-old Barbara Buttrick, born in Cottingham, in 1930, on a trip to Florida.
“The Mighty Atom of the Ring” became the world’s first women’s professional boxing champion. She boxed as a 4ft 11in, 98lb (44.5kg) flyweight and by her own account was “small but mean”.
Abbie, who is 4ft and weighs four stone, started fighting aged eight after getting fed up being called names about her size. Her coach Sean Ross, from East Hull Amateur Boxing Club, said: “Abbie is so nimble, she is a top class boxer, she is like lightning.
“She is just a great role model for people to look up to.”
Lee said: “Before I started out on this I had no idea how many women were boxing. They are not the macho stereotype. There are schoolgirls among them, office workers, mothers, students.
“Saira Tabasum from the Muslim community in Bradford is studying to be a bio-medical scientist.
“It is not to be confused with the professional boxing of Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson, where they knock each other till they are out.
“Amateur boxing is less about sheer brute force, it is point-scoring, skill and technique. They are tiny, skinny, not huge and muscled. Everyone says to me: ‘Why are you doing female boxing it’s barbaric?’. To me it’s a martial art.”
At London 2012 the world’s elite female fighters will compete across three weight categories: flyweight (48-51kg); lightweight (56-60kg) and middleweight (69-75kg) for gold, silver and bronze medals. There are now around 16,000 female boxers aged 16 and over.
Lord Coe, Chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games said: “We want to use the power of the Games to inspire change. The Inspire programme is recognising the work our partners all round the UK are doing to help us achieve this vision. I congratulate everyone involved in Girls in the Ring for securing the Inspire mark and wish you ever success with your work.”
The exhibition is due to visit the Institute of Sport in Sheffield, Bradford city centre and Hull’s Ferens Art Gallery.