Legnis Cala Masso fastidiously removes her necklace and smiles as her coach slides her vibrant pink boxing gloves over her French tip nails.
The 31-year-old swings her wiry physique into the ring and kilos her fellow boxer — additionally a younger girl — with a sequence of punches, simply as she’s completed numerous occasions earlier than.
Today is a day she’s been ready for since she began to field seven years in the past.
Cuban officers introduced Monday that women boxers would be capable of compete formally after many years of restrictions, although they did not but verify if that may be taken to knowledgeable stage prefer it was with Cuban male boxers earlier this 12 months.
Still, it sparked pleasure in women like Cala Masso who’ve spent years preventing to be acknowledged.
“Saying that boxing shouldn’t be for Cuban women — that is at all times been the issue,” she mentioned, leaning on the facet of a blue boxing ring in downtown Havana. “Where we are actually, we by no means thought we’d get right here.”
Cuba is thought worldwide for boxing, residence to many legendary male boxers — amongst them Felix Savon, Teofilo Stevenson and Julio Cesar La Cruz — and proprietor of a dozens of Olympic medals within the sport.
But the island has additionally sparked controversy by not permitting women to compete, regardless of allowing them to take action in different contact sports activities like taekwondo and wrestling.
Perhaps most notably in 2009, the previous head coach of Cuba’s males’s group Pedro Roque informed a bunch of journalists that “Cuban women are there to indicate their lovely faces, to not take punches.”
It was a sentiment Cala Masso and different women who’ve embraced the game have rejected as they’ve sought to vary the principles.
Cala Masso started boxing in Havana with only one different women, spending lengthy hours coaching regardless of being turned away by many coaches and boxing rings. With time, curiosity in boxing amongst women has solely grown.
On Monday morning, officers with Cuba’s National Institute for Sports, INDER, introduced in a press convention that they’d maintain a contest of 42 women boxers in mid-December to decide on 12 athletes for a women’s group.
The group, they mentioned, will compete within the Central American and Caribbean Games in El Salvador, their first worldwide debut. The competitors shall be a primary step towards the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Women have been first allowed to field within the Olympics in 2012.
Cala Masso, who now trains with 5 different women, hopes the choice means their group will solely develop.
The announcement comes shortly after Cuban boxers made a comeback in May in Mexico, with male boxers competing professionally — and getting paid — for the primary time for the reason that communist authorities prohibited skilled sports activities 60 years in the past. It was a giant change in a rustic the place athletes, particularly boxers and baseball gamers, repeatedly go away for paycheques elsewhere.
Down the road, as soon as the group is constructed, these women may additionally probably compete in knowledgeable capability, INDER officers mentioned.
Meanwhile, they mentioned Cuban women boxers will be capable of practice in state sports activities centres beginning in January.
Emilia Rebecca Hernandez, of INDER, mentioned that the adjustments would make it so “Cuban women athletes can transfer as much as the place the place they belong — proper subsequent to males.”
Yet Hernandez, who spoke solely briefly, was the one girl on a panel of male officers who mentioned their delay in permitting women to follow the game was as a result of they needed to examine “the dangers that women may run.”
Women will put on further padding, they mentioned.
Yet for 22-year-old Giselle Bello Garcia, who boxed alongside Cala Masso after having solely began boxing one 12 months earlier for train, mentioned the information provides them an opportunity to indicate what they’re product of.
“I’ve a brand new hope for all times, as a result of my life has modified. From now on, I’m going to focus solely on boxing,” she mentioned. “I need my complete life, up till my loss of life, to be linked to boxing.”
“I’ve to be one of the best,” she added.
Havana correspondent Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this report