The hard work of IFMA in promoting female Muaythai has finally paid off, as female Muaythai has been included in the SEA Games. The SEA Games, under the umbrella of IFMA and FAMA (under IFMA) will be staged in Thailand from the 6th to the 12th of December.
It was IFMA who staged the first female World Cup and has promoted female Muaythai very strongly around the world.
The President of IFMA, Dr Sakchye Tapsuwan, and President of FAMA, HE Mr Karim Massimov, Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan held an important meeting last month in Kazakhstan to discuss these developments.
THE SHE – STORY OF AMATEUR MUAYTHAI
When Amateur Muaythai first came to prominence under the IFMA umbrella, who could have thought it would grow from just 19 countries to over 100 countries in present time? And, more specifically, who would have foreseen the massive leap in female participation levels? Women’s involvement in the competitions has escalated to a point where a second ring is required to accommodate the numbers.
As the men’s competitions developed over the years, from 1990, female fighters looked on and began to question about their status. So, in 1999 at the Stadium in Bangkok, the first amateur women’s fights took place. Since it was the first time for this competition, it began in time-honored fashion as a demonstration of skills and techniques. In front of an enthusiastic crowd, many of the myths about women not being skilled enough to fight or entertaining enough for the crowd were laid to rest. The highlight was a battle between Amy Birch from Australia and Rungaroon Sor Fongnam from Thailand, undoubtedly two of the best. It was a great fight that ensured women’s involvement in the World Cup was here to stay.
At the World Cup 2000, the decision was given to stage a tournament for women as part of the main competition. Teams from Thailand, Ireland, Australia, Italy and England competed and presented a great display of skills. The final matches consumed a full day at the end of the tournament.
During this time, there was much work involved behind the scenes to bring the judging, refereeing and other aspects of the women’s sport up to the same standard of the men. The fight rules, the time of the rounds, the time of the breaks in between rounds, the protective equipment and the competition rules; all these were to be the same standard of the men. The 10 weight category divisions were set between 45-to-75 kilograms.
An innovation from IFMA was having female referees for the female fights. To this day, the decision encourages women who may not be able to fight to participate fully in the sport. This is important, especially, for older women who have been involved with Muaythai for a long time and have much experience and knowledge to share but are not interested in competing. IFMA has always conducts referee courses as part of the World Cup and now the door was opened to women, to ensure a constant supply of qualified referees. The first 20 female referees from around the world graduated and all female fights in the future at the World Championships will be totally controlled by female referees and judges.
The first Female Muaythai Executive Board was established with leading positions as one of the IFMA committees went to former female champions who have much experience and understand the requirements for female Muaythai. Together with the IFMA executive board the committee has worked to bring female competition to the same level as the men’s. Three of the IFMA federations now have female Presidents – New Zealand, Kyrgyzstan and Portugal. This certainly demonstrates that there is no discrimination in Muaythai.
With all of this occurring, it is not surprising that the World Cup 2002 witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of female competitors, with 20 countries entered female teams to the competition. Thailand won the overall competition but the best female boxer title went to Amy Birch from Australia. It was certainly the highlight of her career.
Women competed in the EMF European Cup in 2002, with numbers again showing the depth of the available talents and ensuring brighter future for the female part of the sport. Finland won the team competition, displayed a world-class standard. The best female fighter went to the IFMA World Champion Fiona Hayes, from England. The winner of the best Ram Muay was chosen from all competitors, both male and female, in the tournament. This award went to Heidi Strengell from Finland, this proves that the women as much as the men have learned to respect the traditions of Thailand.
Kazakhstan hosted the World Cup in 2003 with 28 countries accompanied by female athletes. The best female team title was captured by Australia, proving that in Amateur Muaythai there is no such thing as a sure bet. His Excellency General Pichitr Kullavanijaya honored the tournament by personally attended the tournament. To the delight of all Colonel Khunying Vimol Kullavanijaya, General Pichitr’s wife graciously handed out Thai orchids to each female athlete in recognition of their achievements. The world has truly noticed female Muaythai.
The World Cup 2004 was an exciting showcase of female talent with female fighters from almost 50 countries participated. Strong teams from the USA, Canada, Australia, Finland, Ukraine, South Africa, New Zealand, Russia, Thailand, Greece, England and many others competed for the coveted medals and team trophies. Boxers from countries such as India and Sri Lanka, where Women’s Muaythai is in its infancy, received great cheers from the capacity crowd. Some of the event highlights were the exciting battles between Thailand and Australia, Canada versus Holland and Finland versus Thailand. The team competition was very close, while Finland took the honors. Mapela Letonen from Finland received the best female trophy and Linda Loyce from the USA won the best female Wai Khru performance. This was the first time in history that the nine days event was televised for seven hours daily. This has given female Muaythai greater exposure, both in and outside of Thailand.
The World Championship in 2006 drew attention to the competitions from 62 female teams. Her Royal Highness Princess Siriwanwaree Nareeratana presented a plague of recognition to Niamh Griffin for her dedication to popularizing female Muaythai. They were outstanding competitions with most impressive results.
Female Muaythai, as a result of hard work from IFMA and its Asian federation, FAMA, has recently been included as medal sport in the Sea Games.
This is the story so far. Female Muaythai has come a long way which was not easy to traverse. Many international celebrities have become part of the female Muaythai circle, including Miss Korea and the pop singer, Pink. The world is looking forward to the excitement of the Queen’s Cup and the IFMA World Championship 2007 with the expected 100 participating countries.
Female Muaythai unmistakably has become as popular and maybe a little more, as the male sport.