By Staff Reporter
Women’s boxing has evolved from a fringe activity often met with scepticism and opposition, to a recognised and respected sport that epitomises the resilience and determination of women athletes in overcoming societal and institutional barriers. This narrative is exemplified by Luyolo ‘Killer Queen’ Nkatsheni, a nineteen-year-old woman boxer from Joza, who is also a Psychology student at Rhodes University.
Recently, Nkatsheni was honoured as the 2023 Sports Star of the Year at Mfuzo Boxing Camp’s annual awards on 26 November 2023. She also won Sportsperson of the Year at Rhodes University in September.
Nkatsheni began boxing at age 12, inspired by girls from her township en route to the gym. Her curiosity led her to join, and her potential was quickly recognised and fostered. With achievements like winning Gold at the Boxing Amateur Provincial and Silver at the National Boxing Amateur Championships, Nkatsheni remarked, “When you are used to winning, it is not a shock.”
Pioneers such as Christy Martin, Laila Ali, and Lucia Rijker have brought women’s boxing into the spotlight. These athletes not only showcased skill and competitiveness but also started breaking down gender barriers in a traditionally male-dominated sport. Addressing the stigma attached to the sport and the significant strides made by Nkatsheni, Professor Sizwe Mabizela (Vice-Chancellor, Rhodes University) inquired what her reaction is to society perceiving boxing as a “violent sport.”
“That is how it is seen from the outside looking in, but it is not about violence. However, as a woman living in South Africa, I am confident in my self-defence skills,” she told him.
Sue Smailes, Director in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, who highlighted the #RURises campaign against gender-based violence and femicide at higher institutions, said she was delighted that the Sports Star of the Year is a woman, especially for a sport such as boxing. She added that Rhodes University will continue to promote and showcase the invaluable contributions that women have made to sports. Concurring with this perspective, Mvuyisi Sigila (Assistant Manager, Rhodes University Sport) asserted that the #RU120 celebrations will deliberately emphasise women’s leadership in sports, showcasing it as one of Rhodes University’s major areas of concentration: Transformation and leadership.
Incidentally, Dumisani Dondashe (Senior Operations Officer, University Sports South Africa) is conducting a Masters thesis titled: “An Exploratory Study on the Development of Women Boxing Clubs at Higher Institutions.” This study aims to shed light on the challenges women face in boxing and propose long-term strategies for improvement. In addition to examining existing barriers, Dondashe’s study will also explore the impact of women’s boxing clubs on student athletes’ academic performance and personal development. By assessing the correlation between sports participation and academic success, the research could provide valuable insights into how athletic programs can be structured to support holistic student growth, both in and out of the ring. This aspect of the study underscores the importance of sports as a vehicle for empowering young women, not only physically but also academically and personally.
Boxing, beyond its physicality, is a testament to mental strength and strategic thinking. Studies have shown that sports like boxing can enhance cognitive abilities, discipline, and stress management. Female boxers often become role models, advocating for empowerment and challenging traditional gender roles. Their increasing visibility in the sport is not just a win for boxing but a significant stride in broader societal gender equality.
Despite advancements, women’s boxing still confronts issues like pay disparities, fewer opportunities compared to their male counterparts, and persistent stereotypes. However, the increasing number of skilled female boxers, increasing fan base, and advocacy for equality indicate a bright future for the sport. Nkatsheni is set to represent South Africa at the upcoming Mandela Cup.
This article was first published by Rhodes University Communications Division.