Governing Group Ends Controversial Dress Code

Facing mounting criticism, the Badminton World Federation announced Sunday that it was scrapping a rule that would have forced women to wear skirts or dresses in elite competition.

The rule, which was to take effect Wednesday, was intended to make women appear more feminine and attractive to fans and corporate sponsors, officials said. But the rule was roundly criticized for being sexist, a hindrance to competition and offensive to Muslim women who compete in large numbers in Asian countries.
Nora Perry, a former world champion from England who represents women on the executive council of the badminton federation and who embraced the proposed rule, said in a statement Sunday that it would not be implemented until further studied.
“It is still our intention to focus on a better presentation of the game, but we will like to broaden the scope to include both men and women, and the feedback will also include views from various stakeholders such as the clothing manufacturers,” Perry said.
The athletes’ commission of the world federation, which gives voice to players’ concerns, had pushed to have the rule abolished. The rule would have allowed shorts or long pants but only if worn under skirts or dresses.
Kaveh Mehrabi, an Iranian who is chairman of the athletes’ commission and president of the Badminton Players Federation, told The New York Times in an interview last week, “We think the B.W.F. is doing the right thing to raise the profile of the sport, but we think female athletes should have the freedom of choice to compete in outfits they feel most comfortable in.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/30/sports/badminton-group-kills-controversial-dress-code-rule.html?_r=1


Badminton’s New Dress Code Is Being Criticized as Sexist

By Jeré Longman
Christophe Ena/Associated Press- The Badminton World Federation says women playing at the elite level must wear dresses or skirts to create a more “attractive presentation.”

In an attempt to revive flagging interest in women’s badminton as the 2012 London Olympics approach, officials governing the sport have decided that its female athletes need to appear more, how to put it, womanly.

To create a more “attractive presentation,” the Badminton World Federation has decreed that women must wear skirts or dresses to play at the elite level, beginning Wednesday. Many now compete in shorts or tracksuit pants. The dress code would make female players appear more feminine and appealing to fans and corporate sponsors, officials said.
The rule has been roundly criticized as sexist, a hindrance to performance and offensive to Muslim women who play the sport in large numbers in Asian countries. Implementation has already been delayed by a month. Athletes’ representatives said they would seek to have the dress code scrapped, possibly as early as Saturday at a meeting of the world’s badminton-playing nations in Qingdao, China.
“This is a blatant attempt to sexualize women,” said Janice Forsyth, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario. “It is amazing. You’d think at some point, somebody would have said: ‘Wait a minute. What are we doing?’ ”
Women will still be allowed to wear shorts or long pants for cultural and religious reasons. But these garments must be worn beneath a dress or skirt, which could be cumbersome.
“You sweat a lot doing badminton at a really high level,” Forsyth said. “Sometimes clothing sticks to you. Adding another layer does not enhance performance. It detracts. It counters the basic argument that they’re trying to generate more interest in women.”
Women wear more revealing outfits than men in a number of Olympic sports like gymnastics, track and field, volleyball and beach volleyball. Even the bikinis in beach volleyball can be somewhat justified on grounds of functionality (it is easier to clear sand from a two-piece outfit than a one-piece).
Yet the badminton rule seems to have been devised strictly for reasons of appearance. It was formulated in consultation with Octagon, an international marketing firm, which did not respond to requests for comment.
“When you dictate apparel for reasons of sexuality, it should be offensive,” said Donna Lopiano, a former chief executive of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Badminton’s world governing body now finds itself on the defensive, accused of trying to sell a sport by showing more leg and skin. Male players are required only to dress in “proper attire,” officials said.
Manan Vatsyayana/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images- The new badminton rule was formulated in consultation with Octagon, an international marketing firm.
“We’re not trying to use sex to promote the sport,” said Paisan Rangsikitpho, an American who is deputy president of the Badminton World Federation, which is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “We just want them to look feminine and have a nice presentation so women will be more popular.”
Interest is declining, Rangsikitpho said, adding that some women compete in oversize shorts and long pants and appear “baggy, almost like men.”
“Hardly anybody is watching,” he said. “TV ratings are down. We want to build them up to where they should be. They play quite well. We want them to look nicer on the court and have more marketing value for themselves. I’m surprised we got a lot of criticism.”
Some women have embraced the dress rule. Nora Perry, a former world doubles champion from England who is on the council of the world governing body, said in a statement, “We need to be able to differentiate the women’s game to create the attention the game deserves.”
Cee Ketpura, 17, a rising American star, said she always wore skirts in competition because “I think they look more professional.”
Yet many others have said that while they supported attempts to popularize women’s badminton, like offering equal prize money, they considered it an affront to be told to wear a dress or a skirt.
Mesinee Mangkalakiri, 28, who competed for the United States in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is known as May, said that she preferred shorts. Skirts made her feel self-conscious earlier in her career, she said.
“It doesn’t matter what Kobe Bryant wears,” Mangkalakiri said, referring to the N.B.A. star. “People like his skills on the court. You’d hope they come to watch you because you are their favorite player and you have ability and style, not because you’re wearing someone’s favorite skirt.”

Kaveh Mehrabi, an Iranian who is president of the Badminton Players Federation, which gives voice to the concerns of athletes, said his group would seek to have the rule abolished.
“I believe the intention is good to raise the profile of the sport, but it takes freedom of choice away from female athletes,” Mehrabi said. “I think we should work on promoting personalities. When people watch tennis, they like the stories around the rivalries and personal lives. Whether you wear a dress or not doesn’t make much difference.”
Pakistan’s badminton federation said in April that its female players would not adhere to the new rule because “our religious beliefs and norms do not allow our lady players to wear skirts.” Presumably, Pakistani women would be permitted to wear skirts over long pants.
Some players have said the size of the skirts obstructed movement, while others have said that badminton fashion lags behind tennis apparel. Others find it unfair to have different rules for women and men.
“It is sexist to demand the women wear skirts while the men can wear short shorts, baggy shorts, whatever they want,” said Imogen Bankier, 23, a Scottish doubles player.
Writing in The Hindu, an English-language newspaper in India, the columnist Kalpana Sharma noted that while badminton took its cue from the glamour of tennis, female tennis players have greater input in the way their sport is operated.
“Thus what women wear is decided by women players and not imposed by a male club,” Sharma wrote. “If women tennis players choose to be seen as fashion statements, it is their choice.”
Others are struck by how outdated the dress rule seems. Hugh Robertson, the British sports minister, told The Evening Standard of London, “This is not a very 21st-century approach.”
Yet the badminton federation, like many international sports governing bodies, continues to be run largely by men. Of the 25 members of the federation’s council and executive board, only two are women.
Female athletes have long faced obstacles to competition. They were barred from some sports for decades; restricted from certain events because they supposedly lacked stamina or would become masculinized; subjected to gender testing; and had their athleticism suppressed in attempts to feminize them.
As recently as 2004, Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, suggested that women wear tighter shorts to promote “a more female aesthetic.” Only last month, women’s ski jumping was added to the Winter Olympics after concerns that female athletes lacked the strength to compete safely.
“As soon as women got involved in the Olympic Games, the focus for many decades was on beauty and femininity, and then athleticism,” Forsyth said. “What you are seeing in badminton is a modern, hyped-up version of that.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/27/sports/badminton-dress-code-for-women-criticized-as-sexist.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

Skirts-for-women edict splits world of badminton

By Amelia HILL
Pi Hongyan of France wears a "skirt jersey" during the Sudirman Cup world mixed badminton team championship in Qingdao, China, on Friday. Arguments over women players' dress have divided the sport. Photograph: Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images
An attempt by badminton's governing body to force professional female players to wear skirts or dresses has been condemned as "a regressive and damaging attempt to sex up the game" by Hugh Robertson, the minister for sport.
The Badminton World Federation says the dress code is necessary to make women athletes appear more feminine, thereby reviving flagging interest in the sport from fans and corporate sponsors.
Athletes' representatives have said they will seek to have the decision scrapped at a meeting of the world's badminton-playing nations in Qingdao, China, on Saturday.
If the motion is carried, Badminton England has said it will make a "strong protest". Robertson has said he will support any opponent of a dictate he has called "a bit silly [and] not terribly 21st-century".
"Within reasonable limits, the dress on courts should be a matter for the athletes," said Robertson. "To instruct people to wear unnecessarily short skirts is a regressive and damaging attempt to sex up the game. Sport should be judged on the merits of the contest and not on attempts to sex it up artificially."
The new dress code – formulated in consultation with Octagon, an international marketing firm – states that women can still wear shorts or long pants for cultural and religious reasons – as long as they are worn underneath a dress or skirt.
The code requires male players simply to dress in "proper attire".
Paisan Rangsikitpho, the US deputy president of the Badminton World Federation – which has only two female members on its 25-member board – denies the new ruling is "an attempt to use sex to promote the sport".
"We just want them to look feminine and have a nice presentation so women will be more popular," he said. "Interest is declining. Some women compete in oversize shorts and long pants and appear baggy, almost like men.
"Hardly anybody is watching [the sport]," he added. "TV ratings are down. We want to build them up to where they should be. They play quite well. We want them to look nicer on the court and have more marketing value for themselves. I'm surprised we got a lot of criticism."
But William Kings, spokesman for Badminton England, called the attempt "a bizarre move". "We're hoping it will turn out to be the result of something having been lost in translation," he said.
Kings said diagrams by the federation showing how Muslim women could wear skirts over long trousers were "very strange". "The drawings are embarrassingly laughable," he said. "We're rather hoping that at the meeting tomorrow, the federation will be given the opportunity to withdraw, review or have second thoughts about this statement that will lead to its abandonment. But if they don't drop it, we will be making a very strong protest."
He said, however, that UK badminton had a "dilemma" over the issue. He pointed to the support for the new dress code from Nora Perry, a former world doubles champion from England and member of the council of the world governing body.
Kings said of Perry that "the problem is that although she always used to play in a skirt, she was a very attractive woman player while lots of the opponents of this action come from those not quite as fortunate in the good-looks stakes".
Dr Janice Forsyth, director of the international centre for Olympic studiesat the University of Western Ontario, said the code was "a blatant attempt to sexualise women". "It is amazing," she said. "You'd think, at some point, somebody would have said, 'Wait a minute. What are we doing?' "
"When you dictate apparel for reasons of sexuality, it should be offensive," said Donna Lopiano, a former chief executive of the Women's Sports Foundation.
If passed, the ruling would have little impact in the UK. The only female British player not to wear skirts or dresses on court is Imogen Bankier, 23, a Scottish doubles player. Bankier said she would contest the ruling. "It is sexist to demand the women wear skirts while the men can wear short shorts, baggy shorts, whatever they want," she said.


Muslim women find a new goal with AFL

By Peter LALOR

JUST behind the towering goalposts of the Gallipoli Mosque, in the heart of Sydney's west, is a sight that would make AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou fall to his knees and weep with unrestrained joy.
Muslim AFL women
Players from the Auburn Tigers women's football team, which is predominantly Muslim. Picture: James Croucher Source: The Australian
Here in the heartlands of rugby league, tabouleh and fully-sick cars, a green shoot of Australian football has taken root.
The Auburn Tigers football side that trains every Wednesday is not, however, just another team. It is a primarily Muslim team. A primarily Muslim women's football team.
At the National Press Club this week, Demetriou spoke about the challenges facing his code and asked: "How do we make our game relevant to a 10-year-old Muslim girl?"
The answer is: get her older sisters to sign up for the Auburn Tigers and watch her follow.
Amna Karra-Hassan gives you some idea of how big a cultural gap has been leapt, where 25 per cent of the population is Muslim and 10 per cent Chinese.
Most of the girls in the Tigers are of Lebanese background but there is also a Fijian, Bosnian, Turkish and Afghan member too.

"And an Anglo," Karra-Hassan says.
The 22-year-old has never watched a game of football on television or live, but she has played in four competition matches in the Sydney women's league after being encouraged to form the side. She has never heard of Gary Ablett but volunteers a fact that will have Demetriou blubbering all over again. She knows who Israel Folau is.
The AFL is hoping Folau, the rugby league convert who will play with the Greater Western Sydney Giants at the nearby Olympic stadium next year, will be a conduit for a cultural and geographical group that has never engaged with the code.
Karra-Hassan explains that the Muslim girls are observant of their religious customs and so play in headscarves and with covered limbs. They have a strategy ready for the day a scarf is lost in a tackle and plan to surround the victim until it is reinstated. "Our first priority is to make sure the girl is comfortable," she says.
The Auburn Tigers began last year as a Muslim club and the boys' side won the fourth division premiership in its first season. The women only began this year, prompted by the urging of the NSW AFL multicultural officers. They will have a female coach and have asked  the Tigers' male side to keep away on their training nights and game days.
On the cultural barriers to forming the team, Karra-Hassan is frank.
"Girls don't play sport is the big one," she says. "My dad has that attitude and it took a while for our parents to become comfortable with it. Luckily, Dad doesn't even know what AFL footy is, but if he ever saw me get tackled I would be in so much trouble."
Karra-Hassan says that the other women's sides have been helpful.
Asked if the game ever gets rough, she shrieks: "Of course it does. We are from Auburn!"


Better than Beckham in Iran

By Elisabeth Braw, Metro World News
Honey Thaljieh loves watching international football from her home in Bethlehem. Soon Thaljieh herself might play on global television: she’s the founder of Palestine’s new national women’s team.
“In the beginning it was very difficult”, recalls Thaljieh, 26, who also founded the West Bank’s first female football team seven years ago. “People said it wasn’t a game for women. Some said it wasn’t feminine, and others thought men would look at us in our t-shirts.” Today, Palestine has no less than 16 female outdoor teams and 10 indoor teams.
Bedre end Beckham i Iran
Photo by Honey Thaljieh
Welcome to the Revolution. “During the past 5-10 years, we’ve witnessed success stories in the Muslim world”, explains Sertaç Sehlikoglu, a Turkish PhD student in Social Anthropolicy at Cambridge University who runs the blog Muslimwomeninsports. “Love of sport seems to be female athletes’ primary motivation. They also want to gain physical strength and become fit. Many of them are interested in sports for self-defense purposes, which they hope will provide them a higher self-esteem.” 
Today nine Middle Eastern countries, including the UAE, Qatar and Iran, have women’s football or futsal (indoor football) leagues.  “People used to think that football was a strange European thing”, says Farrah Sheikh, a 19-year-old who plays in Dubai’s women’s league. “I had to get special permission to play football in school. Now people are getting used to us playing, though at my university the women’s team is only allowed to play indoors, while the men have two outdoor fields.” Last year Bahrain hosted the world’s first Women's Football Cup Arabia.
“Football is quite popular among Middle Eastern women”, notes Sehlikoglu. “So are martial arts, swimming and track & field.” In 2006 Bahrain’s Roqaya Al-Gassra, who competes fully covered, won the 200 meter race at the Asian Games. And Iran’s Sara Khoshjamal Fekri won bronze in taekwondo at last year’s Asian Games. 
Honey Thaljieh sets her aim on the 2016 Olympics. “Of course we’re not as good as the other Arab countries, because we don’t have good facilities to practice in”, she says. “I want to improve women’s chances of doing sports in Palestine.” But she has another goal, too: “People think of us Palestinians as terrorists. I want to show them that we’re peaceful and well-educated.”

Macho Mideast women
This spring Turkey’s Nurcan Taylan won three gold medals at the European Weightlifting Championships. Turkey, which along with Iran boots the most female athletes, has a “bootcamp” for young female wrestlers. Bahrain and Palestine, too, actively promote female sports, though women point out that male athletes still receive more money. “There were over fifty females athletes from the Middle East in the last Paralympics in China Beijing”, notes Sertaç Sehlikoglu. “We can certainly expect more women from the Middle East in the 2012 Olympics. Especially since the female athletes’ success in the South Asian Games last year, several Middle Eastern countries have realized that women’s success is valuable for their country.”
..and now for the headscarves
Iran’s football association is on the warpath with FIFA, which bans female players from wearing headscarves. Other women wearing hijabs have indeed been banned from competing in international events. (The Middle East’s top female athlete, Ghada Shouaa, is Christian.) But women’s success has created a new market: athletic gear for Muslim women. Montreal designer Elham Seyed Javad has created a “sports jihab”, while another company sells body-covering gear for competitive female swimmers. The United Arab Emirates even features an ‘Aspire4Sport’ conference about athletic clothing for Muslim women. 
Analysis: Ghada Shouaa, heptathlete, Syria’s only Olympic champion (Atlanta 1996)

I left school at 16 and moved to Damascus with the goal of becoming a top athlete. Of course I’m happy that Arab women see me as a role model, but to get top athletes we need a big effort, starting with sports academies for young athletes. But Arab countries don’t have the patience to wait for 10-12 years until their efforts bear fruit.
Arab women have been good at martial arts for a long time, but their new football enthusiasm has been a surprise to me. Of course, to get really good, we need a bigger effort there, too. Men laugh at women’s team. Instead they should support them.
I’m proud that I was the first Arab woman to win an Olympic gold, but the Arab world hasn’t utilized this victory. That makes me sad. People say “oh yes, we’re proud”, but they don’t use it to build up sports in their countries.
Of course I hope women’s sports will take off in the Arab world, but sometimes I doubt it. Arabic sports media, like al-Jazeera Sports, use European men, not Arab women, to comment on women’s sports. If it remains like that, women’s sports won’t have a future in the Middle East. But as a woman, I’ll fight for it!
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Ladies of the Boxing Ring

By Sudhiti Naskar

Twins Shakila and Sanno Singh challenge a conservative, male-dominated society and traditional expectations in India with every fist they throw in the boxing ring. The Muslim 20-year-olds tell Sudhiti Naskar of their hopes and dreams, and of beating the odds thus far. Photographs by Arindam Mukherjee
Two Muslim women, Sanno Singh, left, and twin Shakila, have had to convince everyone from their father to those arguing that boxing is a man's world to compete.
                               Sanno Singh, left, and twin Shakila -Photo by Arindam Mukherjee
A gold medal normally bestows distinction on its illustrious winner.
But when given to a female Muslim boxer in India, it becomes less of a trophy and more of a talisman for future glory beyond the sporting world.
For Shakila Singh, 20, is more than a boxing champion. With her twin sister, Sanno, she is fighting for her freedom to compete in a man's world.
Today, they are among the most promising female boxers from the state of West Bengal, and their success has brought them to the attention of Bollywood and the media.
But the fight has not been easy.
The girls - known as Chotee and Baree (Hindi for "the younger" and "the elder") - grew up and live in Ekbalpore, an impoverished Muslim ghetto in south-west Kolkata. It is not a place where females are encouraged to deviate from their domestic destiny. However, the girls have become famous (or infamous) in the region for overturning traditional expectations in a conservative society.
Their late father, SK Singh, did everything in his power to stop them. He beat them, starved them, scolded them and locked them up to wean them off boxing.
"Father threw his sandal at Chotee," says Sanno, referring to her twin born a few minutes after her. "We had been nagging for his permission since we were small so we could start training as boxers. Some boys in our locality used to practise boxing in a playground close to our home. We picked up our interest for the game from there. But father felt that boxing was a man's game and girls should stay away from it. We had not seen him so angry. We fell silent and were too scared to disobey him. It felt like an end to our dream of boxing. But Allah had other plans, I guess. We are still in the game."
Shakila, left, and Sanno practise at a  boxing club in their town of Ekbalpore.
Photo by Arindam Mukherjee
The fact that they are is a testament to the tireless efforts of their mother, Begum, who defied her husband to furtively support their daughters' passion, hiding their boxing gloves in their schoolbags so they could train after school at the South Calcutta Physical Cultural Association near their home.
Sitting on the only bed in their house, she says: "I felt it was unfair to stop the girls, especially when they loved the sport so much. I gave them permission to train but did not let my husband know."
An imposing woman who rarely smiles, Begum was born into a conservative family and had nursed a strong liking for wrestling in her heart. She grew up admiring her father - a noted pehelwan (Hindi for "wrestler") in his time.
"I secretly wished I could someday become as strong and powerful as him," says Begum. She also wanted to play with the boys, which would anger her mother, who would chide her for what she thought was wayward behaviour.
So when Begum's husband began to chastise the girls, she made up her mind that her daughters would follow their dream. But it was a fight that was always going to go a few rounds with the opposition, which included friends and relatives who now dote on the twins.
The girls' father was a former Hindu who converted to Islam, and a Kolkata police officer. He did his utmost to stop them, as did religious leaders from local mosques who claimed it was un-Islamic for the girls to learn to box, as they would have to wear shorts during matches. Friends and relatives told the twins' parents that no one would marry the girls if their noses were broken or their teeth were knocked out.
Singh died a decade ago after suffering from paralysis and diabetes, and the girls wept. However, his death changed their lives in more ways than one. Shakila, who was born with a hearing and speech impediment, was jolted out of her disability-induced silence by the shock of his death. She spoke for the first time at the age of 10. 
Their father's death meant the girls could embrace the sport openly. Every day, they follow a tough training schedule. They wake up at 4.30am, catch a bus to Victoria Memorial and sprint and shadowbox in its lush gardens for two hours. At the end of the session they return home, eat and rest before preparing for their afternoon training at the Sports Authority of India campus in Salt Lake.
They train with their coach, Sujay Guha, and spar with boys of the same weight. There is no gender-based discrimination inside the ring. Once a bout is over Shakila leans back on the ropes with beads of sweat running down her cheeks. With her frame heaving in small gasps she looks like a lioness.
Such exertion wears the girls out. Shakila, who stands 5 feet 4 inches and weighs 11 stone 11 pounds, and Sanno, 5ft 5in and 13 pounds lighter, need a rich intake of protein to stay fit. Their mother ensures they get to eat chicken at least once a day although the family is of limited means.
Under the same roof with the girls and their mother live Begum's eldest son and his wife and their five children.
Their house is on one of the many narrow alleys that run through a ghetto littered with rubbish pits and open drains. There is no kitchen, so cooking is managed around a small passage next to the entrance. The 10.2 sq m room used as both living room and bedroom has posters of Mecca and other religious places neatly hung on its bright, blue walls. The next room is treated as a storeroom and a prayer room.
Shakila, Sanno and their sister, from left, pray in  their two-roomed flat.
Photo by Arindam Mukherjee
The twins perform namaz here five times a day. They fast during Ramadan, and although training on an empty stomach makes them dizzy, they don't like to skip on practice. Their traditional upbringing is a major influence on their lives, and they listen to their mother without question. In many respects, their lives are not so different from those of the other neighbourhood girls. But their wish to box speaks volumes about their free will in a society that is largely male-dominated and an environment in which women are marginalised.
There are now about 200 female boxers in India, and the Muslim communities of West Bengal contribute about 55 per cent of the total. This would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. However, the twins' boxing club president, Asit Bannerjee, began to campaign for women's participation in the sport at a meeting of the Indian Boxing Federation in 1998. Other members opposed his idea, claiming it was against Indian culture for women to box, and that they were physically and psychologically weak. Two years later, women's boxing started on a national level, with divisions in junior, sub-junior, senior and youth levels.
Bannerjee, 66, has been a major influence on the twins. In 2007, Shakila won a gold medal in an international boxing championship in Turkey. The tournament, run by the Geneva-based Amateur International Boxing Association, was one of several now being held to promote junior competitors and give them experience. Shakila competed as a light flyweight and knocked out her foe from the host country.
The twins have fought in about 10 tournaments at the national and state levels and many more at the interclub level. Shakila was a runner-up in one national championship held in Agra, and in an interclub championship in Kolkata. She also knocked out a 6ft-tall opponent in five seconds at the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation's National Championship in 2006. Sanno has yet to reach a final.
"In the coming years, they will be champions in the state and national level," says Guha, the twins' coach.
The twins consider Bannerjee their mentor. He has been instrumental in turning them into serious sportswomen. He also told them about The now-retired boxer Laila Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali.
"If she can, you can too," he would tell the girls. "Be focused, work hard." 
In reality, Banerjee has carried out a social experiment in these ghettos, by bringing together men and women, Hindus and Muslims, to boxing. As they pack punches and rub shoulders inside the ring, social and religious prejudices appear to crumble.
Now Ekbalpore community leaders organise women's boxing championships. At one such event, the smiling sisters are transformed into tough-looking boxers, keen eyes flashing. Sanno employs the outfight method in which the punches are thrown from a distance. Shakila, who has smaller hands and a lesser reach, uses the in-fight technique, in which she comes closer to her opponents. The two have fought each other, with Shakila having a slight edge.
As Sanno steps into the ring, an uproar of cheers comes from the crowd of mostly men. Her female fans crane their necks to watch. As she throws powerful and precise punches, her opponent gives in. The crowd goes wild.
The twins' family bears the brunt of their expenses. Their equipment is mostly donated by private sponsors, and coaches and clubs do not take a fee. The twins hope to land jobs eventually in the police force or railway management. Neither has a boyfriend; their conservative background renders it almost impossible for them to have a romantic relationship before they are married.
"We do think about jobs and money, because we are not rich," says Sanno, "but at the end of the day it's the sport that matters. For us boxing is a passion."
Adds Shakila: "Yes, starve me for a day I can manage, but stop my game and I will die."
Man on a mission
Asit Banerjee is helping to change the attitude in India towards women in male-dominated sports, especially boxing.
Banerjee, 66, the president of the South Calcutta Physical Cultural Association, near the home of Sanno and Shakila Singh, declares himself to be a disciple of the 19th-century philosopher Swami Vivekananda, who preached female empowerment.
"I believe women are stronger than men because they go through the pain of giving birth," says Banerjee. "A man cannot possibly imagine how strong a person needs to be to sustain that kind of pain. When women will realise their power, the face of Earth will change forever.
"This is why I went to the Muslim-dominated ghettos of Khidderpur, Ekbalpore, Mominpur and Metiaburz to discover spirited girls. These poor Muslim girls have a killer instinct - a kind of spunk - needed for the sport. I had a hope that these girls could begin a women's era in the boxing circle of India."
And a women's era outside of it, too.
"I am not trying to create a bunch of pro-boxing women," he says. "Boxing is just an excuse. I believe through boxing I can help liberate these women from the prejudices and restrictions society imposes on them. I want to produce strong women who can be strong mothers. A nation can never prosper if it produces weak women."
It has been an uphill task for Banerjee, an upper-caste Hindu, to persuade Muslim parents to let their children, male or female, to box. Some Urdu newspapers called him a Hindu conspirator and an infidel. How sweet it was, then, when one of his ace boxers, Mohammed Ali Qamar, won a light-flyweight gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. This victory gave Banerjee the credibility he needed.
After this, he went from door-to-door to seek female women boxers such as the Singh twins.
"Your blood is no different from Qamar's," he would tell girls. "Now it's Qamar's sisters' turn to storm the ring."
More than a few girls heard him in Ekbalpore and its neighbouring Muslim ghettos, which now churn out female boxers like never before.
On film
The Singh twins' journey has been chronicled in a 30-minute Bollywood documentary, India's Million Dollar Babies. Shot in Ekbalpore, its surroundings and the gardens of Victoria Memorial, it examines the religious and cultural hurdles they have met to become the redoubtable competitors they are. Inspired by the Oscar-winning Clint Eastwood film about a female boxer, Million Dollar Baby, it was made by the director Jay Singh (who is no relation).