Minister will use ‘stick’ to enforce gender balance regulations

Minister of State for Sport Patrick O’Donovan says he is prepared to “use a stick” to make sports bodies fulfil some of their responsibilities around gender balance.

“Sooner or later the stick will be brought out — it is long overdue in some areas where I think we are slacking,” he warned at a conference on women in sport in Dublin yesterday. The government, through Sport Ireland, gives money annually to national governing bodies ring-fenced for women’s sport programmes. It has contributed €18m to such initiatives since 2005 and there has never been any issues with how the money has been spent.

But the minister’s comments noticeably come at a time when sporting bodies in England have been told their government and lottery funding will be reduced if they do not meet a gender quota of 30% women on their boards.

Australia has also introduced a similar guideline and threat to get 40% women on sporting boards in the past year. The strong gender imbalance of women on sporting boards and in coaching was among the many issues addressed by yesterday’s conference, run by Sport for Business.

The high team participation drop-off by girls from 14 upwards was also discussed and Minister Donovan said “we need to be more radical in how we teach physical education”.

“As a former primary school teacher, I don’t feel we were taught (adequately) how to teach PE,” he said, adding throwing responsibility on primary school teachers to solve the problem will not work. The automatic temptation is to dump initiatives into schools for them to solve but teachers only have the same hours every day. There’s a tendency to say ‘we’ll let primary schools’ deal with it,’ but, when we do that, something else has to give in the schools’ programme,” he added.

“We can’t assume that primary schools are the solution. They are one part of it but parents, communities and society all have a big part to play also.”

The minister said that sport must be equally accessible to everyone, irrespective of gender or age. He said he will look to see if something like the successful ‘This Girl Can’ participation initiative in Britain could be replicated in Ireland.

‘This Girl Can’, run by government agency Sport England, cost £10m and is credited with increasing participation rates among girls of 16 upwards by 150,000 in its first year.

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