Women Boxers Shouldn’t Ruin Their Face Before Marriage, a Former Athlete Says

“There are even women who enjoy hitting each other. What’s the point in watching?” the former athlete said.
August 12, 2021, 9:53am
olympics, tokyo 2020, boxing, women, japan, sports, athlete, sexism, marirag
Sena Irie won Japan’s first gold medal in women’s boxing, but a former baseball player is worried about her face for marriage. Photo: Kyodo via AP Images

A retired Japanese baseball player has come under fire for making sexist remarks about women boxers.

During a televised interview on Sunday, 81-year-old Isao Harimoto made disparaging comments when discussing Japanese athlete Sena Irie’s boxing gold medal, the first won by a Japanese woman in the Olympics.

“There are even women who enjoy hitting each other. What’s the point in watching? A young lady getting punched in the face before she goes off to get married... well, show appreciation I guess, because it’s a gold medal,” he said. 

Harimoto’s remarks reflect the pervasive sexism in Japan, especially when it comes to a sport long dominated by men. 

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Olympic organizers touted the Tokyo Games as the most gender-balanced Olympics ever, with almost 49 percent of the 11,000 athletes being women, but gender stereotypes remain deeply entrenched in the country. A few months before the games started, the head of Japan’s Olympic organizing committee was forced to step down after he suggested that women talked too much in meetings.

Harimoto’s comments have prompted the Japanese Boxing Association to release a formal letter to the broadcaster, TBS, protesting his statements and calling for the TV company to issue a correction.

“Boxing is not simply a fist fight. We want you to understand it’s a sport that requires perfect skill, and comments that women shouldn’t practice boxing is an affront to diversity. We ask that you issue a correction to your listeners,” the statement said.

In addition to the association’s formal letter, a number of Japanese athletes have expressed their disappointment with Harimoto’s remarks. On Thursday, Japanese marathon medallist Yuko Arimori said she couldn’t believe he was allowed to make those comments on air. “It’s just not in line with our times,” she said on Japanese channel Abema. TBS has said it’s considering its next steps. 

The former baseball player has not publicly responded to the backlash against his remarks. VICE World News could not reach him for comment.

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Women’s boxing has only recently entered the Olympics, at the 2012 London Games, while men’s boxing has been a staple at the games since 1904. The women’s event had struggled to get formal recognition partly because of the sexist belief that women should not box. “Deep down I think women shouldn’t fight,” British professional boxer Amir Khan said in 2009 after Olympic organizers decided to include the discipline in the 2012 Games.

Irie set her sights on the Olympics after watching women box in the London Games when she was in the sixth grade.

The native of Tottori, a southern prefecture on Japan’s mainland, had started the sport in the second grade after reading “Ganbare Genki,” a manga about an aspiring boxer. After Irie mentioned how much the comic series meant to her, the artist Yu Koyama drew a picture of the boxer commemorating her win.

In an earlier interview, the featherweight champion said that she wanted to shatter biased understandings of the sport.

“Even if it’s seen as minor, I want Japanese people to understand that they can feel courage and positivity through women’s boxing,” she said last month. 

At the Tokyo Games, Japan won 58 medals, a majority of which was earned by women. Fourteen of the country’s 27 gold medals came from women’s events. Part of this illustrious group, Irie is her prefecture’s first and only Olympic gold medalist.

Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.