Have you heard of these women?
Linda Byrne, Ava Hutchinson, Maria McCambridge, Caitriona Jennings; Fionnuala Britton, Stephanie Reilly; Derval O’Rourke, Joanne Cuddihy, Deirdre Ryan, Tori Pena, Olive Loughnane; Ciara Mageean, Jessie Barr; Fiona Doyle, Grainne Murphy; Melanie Nocher; Sycerika McMahon, Aisling Cooney; Shani Stallard; Bethany Carson.
Some of you might recognise two or three, maybe four, names. Gold stars if you recognise any more than that. Yet these are the women who have already met Olympic standards to qualify for the London Olympics. (Unfortunately, although all have achieved this, not all will be able to go due to restrictions on numbers.)
Now, some may say that athletics and swimming are minority sports. And, in fairness, the men in athletics aren’t fending off the Irish press either. So, ok, let’s take a look at the more popular sports in Ireland.
Rugby? That’s fairly popular, judging by the mass hysteria whipped up whenever the men’s side are in a competition. And you can’t avoid news of the provinces; even if you don’t follow the Heineken Cup, it’s like the information just gets absorbed by osmosis.
And yet, the women’s side? Hardly a peep. You’d have to know where to look to find what little coverage there was during the recent Womens Six Nations. The IRFU has – in lastminute.com style – announced the Sevens format of the game for women, which opens up the chance of Ireland getting to the Rio Olympics in 2016. Did you know that? If not, why not?
How about football, then? Or “saccerrrr” as the Americans might say. Trapattoni and his protégés can’t fart without it making the lead story in sports bulletins. Seriously: take a look at the qualifiers for this summer’s European whatsit. Every game, utterance and step is meticulously analysed and dissected. Even a friendly game (essentially a money-making kickabout) gets a live broadcast and whips up the pundits into a frenzy.
But did you know that Ireland’s women are currently kicking, heading and slide-tackling their way to the same competition for next year? Or that their captain has played for Arsenal for 13 years, is one of the world’s highest rated female goalies, and recently earned her 100th cap? Did you? No? Well, you heard it here first, then.
You may ask: Oh, Joan, quit yer moanin’, who cares?
Well, I do, for one. And not just because it bothers me that women don’t get the same respect as the men in the same sports. There’s also this: I strongly believe that young women and girls should have a diversity of role models, and that the idea of women engaging in physical, team sports should be normalised.
Think of the possibilities for school girls and college-age women (and beyond!): the confidence building; learning about working effectively in a team (and I’m not talking in the management lingo sense); the inherent leadership qualities; and, of course, the health benefits.
And maybe, too, they won’t just be the bit of filler and fluff on a poster campaign.
Here’s a thought: Maybe the RTÉ Sports Department (having recently had its budget slashed), could capitalise by broadcasting cheap-as-chips women’s teams participating in some of the nation’s favourite sports? What do you think?