Women’s sport deserves better funding: An open letter to UCD

Jenna Guerin talks to Kevin Beirne about the difficulties of running a successful sports club on a short budgetThe UCD women’s soccer team are having a season to remember. On March 22nd, the women’s futsal team will play in the WSCAI Futsal Finals thanks to a 6-1 win over IT Blanchardstown. For the first team, a semi-final loss to Sligo IT in the intervarsity tournament, which was held in Sligo at the start of February, was quickly surpassed as they reached the final of the WSCAI Premier Division Final.Their reward for a 4-0 thrashing of IT Tralee last Thursday in Roscrea is a rematch against Sligo IT on March 19th. Ciara Grant scored twice in the semi-final, just a few days after being announced as a member of the Irish team to play in the Cyprus Cup.The Republic of Ireland have been drawn in a group alongside Northern Ireland, South Africa and South Korea, as they will start their preparations for the World Cup qualifiers. Grant will be joined in the squad by Emma Byrne and Yvonne Tracy, who play their club football with Arsenal’s Ladies team, arguably Europe’s best women’s team at present.The achievements of the club this year are even more impressive when you take into consideration the financial hardship that faces them. The women’s soccer club are not the only ones facing a tighter budget, although it seems that they are being hit much harder than their male counterparts.Jenna Guerin understands the financial constraints placed on the club about as well as anyone as she has been a volunteer with the club for the last decade.  She says that their “grant has taken a cut over the past few years, not just drastically over one year. Back in 2009 or 2010, it’s across the board for all the clubs, I believe, that everyone’s been getting 10% [cut] since then. You used to get your full grant, and you’d look after the wages of your coaches… What happened before was you used to get your pot, and if you didn’t use it all for coaching, you had it to pay other things to do with the club. Now, what’s happened is that you get your grant, and the part for coaching is taken out… and you’re left with a small pot to pay.”This is a problem, she says, because of the unpredictability of a long season of football. Where the old system gave clubs more freedom over the amount of hours of coaching they would avail of, the new system does not allow this.If a coach who was set to do ten hours of coaching in the year was only needed for eight hours, that money can no longer be reallocated to another part of the club, like paying for new equipment or covering transport costs to games.This lack of control over the finances of the club, coupled with a smaller grant anyway, has meant that the club has had to rely on the ingenuity of its members to keep itself afloat. If you have spent any time in the Sports Café this year, chances are that you have contributed to the cause by purchasing something from one of their many bake sales.There have also been five-a-side tournaments, where participants are charged an entry fee, which then helps the club fund basic necessities. When the coaching and administrative costs for the year are taken out, the club are only left with around €3,000 to cover these things.Guerin is full of praise for the team, saying “our girls work extremely hard. They funded their whole way to intervarsities last week. They fundraise whenever we ask them to fundraise; they pay for everything. The three grand [from the grant] wouldn’t even cover their busses for their first-team matches this year.”With regards to the grant, she thinks that “what’s probably going to happen next season is that when we put in our grant, and show that we funded and made that much money, we’re probably going to get cut again.“When you do get your grant, you don’t get it until December, and you’re halfway through your season and you’ve already committed to the season… At that stage we had fully committed to two leagues.”Although she does think that the university is getting better at supporting women’s sports, citing the hockey team as an example, Guerin feels like the soccer team are not getting enough backing. She says that “we had put a bid in to be a National League team this year… The majority of our team are playing National League, but they’re playing National League elsewhere.“We weren’t supported by the college with our application. They supported us, but we had to have access to the Belfield Bowl for our games, because all the National League teams play in stadiums, and the college wouldn’t give us permission to play our games there.”According to Guerin, the reason the University gave for this is that there wouldn’t be enough time for the pitch to recover between matches, seeing as it already hosts the men’s soccer team and the men’s rugby team, including the rugby under-21s.At a time when the UCD women’s soccer team has the potential to be the best in the country, it is sad to see an underage men’s team given priority. If UCD really want to support women’s sports, changes are going to have to be made in order to allow the women’s games to thrive alongside the men’s.Unfortunately, this seems unlikely, at the moment at least. Maybe soon there will be louder calls to change the status quo.