Balls to this: Irish women in sport, under funded, under appreciated, unknown

By Joan | May 3 2012 | 28 Comments

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?

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28 Replies to "Balls to this: Irish women in sport, under funded, under appreciated, unknown"

  • Aisling Aisling says:

    Great post Joan! Absolutely would love to see more women’s sport on TV. The way the womens rugby team is underfunded is terrible!

  • blondie says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Am absolutely in no way sporty myself but I do think it can only be good for kids/teenagers of both sexes to be encouraged into sports fitness & god knows young girls need a broader variety of role models in the public eye. Great suggestion for RTE too.

  • NiamhO says:

    Also I think equestrian sport in Ireland is highly under reported, yes we hear about showjumpers occasionally but who can say that they know what an event is? Or know how many Irish men and,women have already qualified for the Olympics.

  • Ninaluna says:

    Irish women’s achievements in sport are hardly recognised-I have two very close friends who have represented their country at International level in cricket and hockey and have devoted so much time, all for the love of the sport and barely a mention in the press.

    I’d love to see RTE broadcast more women’s events, we have a wealth of talent which needs to be recognised.

  • TheBolter says:

    Great article, and it’s so true that young girls in this country need to be encouraged to take part in real team sports, even it’s just in PE, not inter-school competitions It could just have been my alma mater, but we were never taught the rules of anything, it was usually just indefinite running, with occasional badminton (also rule-free) A properly organised five-a-side or tag rugby would have been infinitely more enjoyable. Although I will admit now that I was the chubby, speccy kid who did a strong line in ‘cramps’.

    My one concern is that the women’s version of traditional team sports (rugby, football, GAA, etc) inevitably gets compared with the men’s equivalent. Inevitably, and unfavourably, because – to use that time honoured football cliche – at the end of the day, women’s sport cannot compete with the money and experience of the men’s game. Women’s football only went professional, what, last year? It’s not comparing like with like.

    It’s not because it’s played by women that makes it poorer quality, but the fact remains that it is. So, when it comes to media coverage of women’s sport, I’m not sure how that can be dealt with without being seen as patronising – “Ah, look at the ladies, trying their best to catch up with the lads” or blind tokenism – “We must report it, and we must say it’s great because they are women”.

  • Grá says:

    I totally agree. Recently on a trip/ climb/ crawl up Croke Patrick a couple were climbing the mountain at the same time as a group of us and people were like “look who it is, its Mr. X who plays Gaelic football for Y county”……I was like “Ah and his girlfiend, the girl with him, also plays for Y county and is actually the captain of the team!!!” Mr. X barely makes it past subs during most matches but he still got recognized more than the female captain!

  • PinkPanther says:

    Great post Joan – so true. I NEVER played sports until I was in my mid 20′s when I moved abroad and discovered roller derby. Now I absolutley love it. I really wish I’d discovered sports when I was younger now, but there just wasn’t any focus on women’s sport at all.

  • Kitty In The City says:

    Pink Panther, went to my first roller derby a few months ago. Great fun!

    If you’re ever in Paddy Cullen’s pub in Ballsbridge, the women’s toilets are covered in photos of Irish sporting women.

  • Bríana Walsh says:

    Great post. For women who want to get into sport and develop a team full of friends the sport of roller derby is exploding across the country with leagues popping up everywhere. We even got an article in the irish times a few weeks ago with my derby ass printed in colour in the magazine (my father was so proud) check out the leagues in limerick, dublin, cork, waterford, belfast and elsewhere. Roller Derby also comes with its own unique take on beauty. we sport tattoss, mohawks, warpaint, and some us just look plain normal. The beaut.ie team should check it out, it is a whole new empowering world for women in ireland.

  • Aisling Aisling says:

    Thanks Brianna that sounds fab – I think we might!

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