THIS summer, eight lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender women from Cork will travel to Paris to throw some punches and weave and bob, competing as boxers at the international Gay Games.
The games, which take place once every four years and are commonly referred to as the ‘Gay Olympics’, are now in their tenth year and will this year see 15,000 participants from more than 70 countries compete in 500 competitions across 36 sports.
This summer’s games will be the first time boxing has featured in the event, which also encompasses a range of academic conferences around diversity and sport, as well of a host of festivities and entertainment events taking place across Paris.
Most of the Cork women travelling to Paris to compete in the tournaments had never fought before this year. In fact, the group only formed last October when Sarah O’Sullivan, a staff member at LINC (Lesbians In Cork) community group, put a call out to see if she could find other women who were interested in joining her for a bout.
“I did some kick boxing a long time ago and I would have liked to have done boxing then but I couldn’t find a club,” said Sarah. “But when I heard about the Gay Games, I just really wanted to go. So back in September, I did a shout out through Linc to see if anybody else wanted to learn how to box and all these women turned up!
“Someone mentioned that Ciara, our coach, who was already a member of LINC, was a qualified boxing instructor so I got in touch with her. We started training at the end of October and it’s been great to have the Games to work towards and motivate us.
“The group is brilliant because we all encourage each other and we’ve all started off from the same point, as total beginners. None of the women who joined really knew each other either before we started but we were all connected to Linc and we’ve all gelled really well. It would have been daunting walking in to a club where you knew nobody at all, especially as LGBT women,” she said.
Despite the group’s lack of boxing experience, their coach, Ciara Mulcahy, plans to have the women fighting fit and ready to give some knockout performances in Paris.
Ciara who has been boxing for the last six years, has a novice Irish boxing title under her belt. She says that, just like the Olympics, the Gay Games is not all about winning but that the event celebrates diversity, respect, equality, solidarity and sharing, as well as excellence in sport.
Ciara says there many reasons why women want to take part in boxing but that for the Linc group, it’s mostly about getting fit, being part of something and having fun.
“There’s been a huge increase in boxing since 2012, when Katie Talyor won gold in the Olympics. It’s given women permission to involve themselves in stuff like this. I think any form of self-defence or martial art is empowering and important because it helps you walk a little bit taller. There’s an element of safety and protection to it that makes you feel less vulnerable.
“Outside of that, I think these women wanted to have a challenge, they wanted something that pushed them and this is where they found it.
“There’s also a fantastic community feel to the group. It’s great craic and you can see and hear from the way the women are training, they absolutely love it and it’s always great fun”.
Ciara, who is originally from Dungarvan, started boxing in her early twenties, training and competing with her local club. She says making the move to boxing was a natural progression for her from traditional martial arts.
“I’ve always done combat sports; I started karate when I was about six and I’ve always been involved with kickboxing and stuff like that. I moved on to boxing from karate in my twenties because I was always disqualified for hitting too hard! My partner at the time was a boxer so I tried it out and it really appealed to me because I could really let go, within the rules of course!
“Once I started training and competing, I won a novice Irish title and went on to do my coaching course.
“I’ve coached in Bishopstown with the deaf unit but this is the first time I’ve had an all female boxing group. It’s very different, it’s incredible and I think it’s really cool to have a group of all female boxers heading off to Paris from Cork.”
Ciara has never participated in the Gay Games before but she says it’s something she’s looking forward to being part of, even if it’s from the side of the ring.
“This will be my first time going to the Gay Games and I’m really excited about it. The atmosphere’s supposed to be incredible, so I can’t wait. There’s going to be a really big opening ceremony, with tens of thousands of spectators, where every team marches out with their country flags. It’ll be a really big entertainment spectacle. It’s essentially the Gay Olympics.
“After the opening ceremony, we have a couple of days training and after that it’s just sports for ten days. The boxing starts on the third or fourth day and there’ll be all different levels of athletes competing. There’s entry level, for people who’ve been participating in the sport for less than four years, but we’ll be observed when we’re training and assigned a category to compete in. If I can get another two coaches to come on board, I’ll compete myself but if I can’t, probably not. I won’t compete and coach because my head has to be in the game for the women,” she said.
The boxing group aren’t the first Linc women to compete in the games. Four years ago, a women’s soccer team and a badminton group took part in the competitions and several individuals also went to swim.
This year, 40 gay athletes will travel to Paris under the banner of #TeamCork to compete in sports including badminton, running, soccer, swimming, boxing and urban dance.
The boxing team are self funding their trip, which will cost around €1,500 each to cover things like registration, flights and accommodation. On top of that, they are required to provide their own protective equipment.
The group is currently seeking sponsorship for the trip and has launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for their kit.
However, for Ciara, Sarah and the rest of the Linc Boxing Group women, the Gay Games - whether they self fund it or not - is something worth fighting for.
“LGBT men and women have much lower participation rates in sport than non-LGBT people so it’s really important to have sports groups like this,” said Sarah.
“For me, the Linc Boxing team has married all of my worlds,” added Ciara. “It mixes community development, queer women - we’re all lesbian, bisexual and trans women - and sport, so it’s absolutely incredible for me to be part of it and I know we’ll do Cork proud.” For more info on the Gay Games see www.Paris2018. Check out the Linc Boxing group Facebook Page or search TeamCorkGayGames on Facebook. Donations to the groupcan be made through: https://www.gofundme.com/linc-boxing-group-gay-games-kit