Are we doing enough for women’s sport?

Despite record attendance at women’s sporting events, Edward Leonard asks if we are doing enough to support the development of women’s sport?

2019 was another year for record attendances at women’s sporting events. The 2019 All-Ireland Ladies Football final saw an attendance of over 56,000 – an increase of over 5,000 in 2018. Such attendance figures would have been unheard of 7 years ago when 17,000 fans travelled to Croke Park to see Cork and Kerry fight to win the Brendan Martin Cup.

The promotion of women’s sport in recent years is clearly behind the increase in attendance but are we doing enough to support the development of women’s sport? The recent Ireland v Ukraine women’s soccer match was a sell-out but are we placing enough pressure on sporting organisations to further promote women in sport?

Last March, Sport Ireland launched its Women in Sport policy, outlining their commitments to promoting female involvement in sports. There is still so much work to be done, despite the gap between male and female sports participation falling from 15.7% to 4.5% between 2007 and 2017. Even though just over 40% of women regularly participate in sport, there is a large proportion of women not actively participating in sport.

This is partly due to sport historically not being highly encouraged towards females. But the lack of funding that has gone into female sports has greatly affected the amount of coaching and resources and the overall female participation. Despite the recent announcement of a €3 million investment into women’s sport by Sport Ireland, much more investment is needed to promote gender equality in sport.

The recently launched 20×20 movement has been working towards increasing the overall visibility of women’s sport and to change the perception that Irish people have towards women in sport. Their primary targets are, by the end of 2020, for there to be a 20% increase in media coverage of women in sport, 20% more female participation in sport and 20% more attendance at women’s sporting events.

Their ambition is to ensure sport is something where both men and women can be included. ‘Show Your Stripes’ is their way of asking people to play their part in increasing the visibility of women’s sport in Ireland, adopting the stance of “if she can’t see it, she can’t be it”. This was seen at the recent All-Ireland Senior Football semi-final between Dublin and Mayo which, despite it being a male sporting event, having 82,300 people focusing on women’s sport is a positive step forward.

The overall media coverage of women in sport has increased greatly in recent years, through both broadcasting women’s sporting events and an increased number of female pundits and presenters. To think that you could have women providing punditry on men’s matches would’ve been inconceivable 10 years ago but is now a regular occurrence. Retired sports stars such as Alex Scott, Fiona Coughlan and Hope Solo all opted to move into punditry upon retirement and proved early on to be fan favourites.

An even more inconceivable concept 10 years ago would have been having women hosting TV coverage of men’s matches, but now with RTE and Sky Sports both having their GAA coverage anchored by women, in Joanne Cantwell and Rachel Gredley respectively, the idea that talking about sport on television is just for men is fading gradually.

Even video games have now opted to include female sports for the first time, with the FIFA series now including female international teams and the UFC including female fighters in their video game series. By doing this, they are furthering their reach of promoting women in sport to a predominately young male market who may only be aware of male athletes.

Despite all this work, there is still so much work to be done to eradicate the perception that sport only exists in a man’s world. This was highlighted in the recent ‘tracksuit-gate’ saga, where the Irish women’s football team were asked to change in airport toilets to hand back their tracksuits so other teams could use them. These were some of the disgraceful demands being placed on them by the FAI.

All they were looking for were, “the basics”, according to player Áine O’Gorman. There are many underage male teams who receive better resources so to think that a national senior side were exposed to such treatment amplifies the work that sporting organisations must do to reduce the gender equality gap in sport.

We all need to play our part to help encourage more women to get involved in sport, but equality will not automatically arise. Little things, such as increased TV coverage of women’s sport, greater government investment into helping schools, and sporting organisations to get girls involved in sport and to reduce female drop out levels. Men and women are not equal in sport now, but over time, through increased female representation, we can ensure that sport is enjoyable for all.