Getting over the line: Phil Healy on the challenges facing women in sport

As we look forward to International Women’s Day, Breda Graham speaks to Bandon-born sprinter Phil Healy who is set to speak at the AIB Future Sparks careers festival later this month on her successes, the challenges facing women in sport and why we should strive for a more equal sporting world.

Getting over the line: Phil Healy on the challenges facing women in sport
Phil Healy believes that initiatives such as free tickets into sporting events would make young people more aware of the female sporting talent that exists in Ireland. Photo: Mary Browne.

Cork athlete Phil Healy recently became Ireland’s fastest woman. Her impressive performance at the AIT International Grand Prix in Athlone saw her smash the national indoor 200m record with her time of 23.10 seconds.

The 25-year-old broke the 23.17 record of Ciara Sheehy that had stood for 17 years.

She attained the fastest run by a European athlete this season, finishing .61 of a second ahead of Germany’s Jessica-Bianca Wessolly as she set her third sprint record on home soil.

Phil now holds the national record in the 100m and 200m outdoor and the 200m indoor sprints.

Her achievement, which was witnessed by a sold-out crowd at the AIT International Arena, was streamed live on TG4 and received a generous amount of media coverage.

Yet, record-breaking moments in women’s sports don’t receive as much praise as deserved, because we live in a world where “men will take the headlines”.

That’s the view of the Bandon-born sprinter as she celebrates women and their successes in their sport and in their field of work and strives for a more equal world this International Women’s Day.

“If you looked at television yesterday, how much of it was men’s sport in comparison to women? Kids sitting at home watching TV look up to male rugby players and GAA players.

“How are they supposed to get to know the female players if they’re not taken to the matches or they don’t see it on television?

“Our national champions are next week, are they advertised enough? Definitely not. We’re not encouraging clubs to come in to watch athletes, to encourage them into the sport.”

Phil believes that initiatives such as free tickets into matches or sporting events and encouraging clubs to attend such sporting events would make young people more aware of the female sporting talent that Ireland produces.

“There definitely needs to be more initiatives to bring more people in and more TV coverage of the sport. If people are sitting at home on Sunday and they’re watching the sport on television, they get to know more Irish athletes and that promotes the sport itself.”

Phil has been competing competitively, both nationally and internationally, since she was 18.

In those seven years, Phil says she has witnessed inequality in the coverage and celebration of women in their sport.

“In general for sport and even in athletics we need to promote more women in sport, their achievements in sport and have that equality.

“Why should their achievements be brushed under? We train as hard as anyone else so we deserve the coverage as much as the males do.

“Obviously, there are more barriers in terms of professional set-ups across different sports where women are working full time and trying to balance a sport as well, but why shouldn’t we celebrate?

“We saw it with women’s hockey. That came down to media coverage because they were doing well and that was promoted. So many people came on board and we got to know the hockey players.

Phil Healy of Ireland after winning the final of the Hodson Bay Hotel Women's 200m event during the AIT International Grand Prix 2020 at AIT International Arena in Athlone, Westmeath.
Phil Healy of Ireland after winning the final of the Hodson Bay Hotel Women's 200m event during the AIT International Grand Prix 2020 at AIT International Arena in Athlone, Westmeath.

“We need to get as much recognition as we can because women are out there fighting as much in their sport as the males are,” she said.

She said that not many inequalities exist between females and males in her sport specifically in terms of television coverage, because men and women compete on the same day and therefore receive the same amount of coverage.

“With athletics men and women compete on the same day so we don’t have inequalities in that way, and we get the same TV coverage as the men do if it’s an international competition, but obviously athletics is a minority sport. Our nationals are next week and we don’t have TV coverage of that.

“As a female athlete looking at other sports, it definitely isn’t fair that women’s GAA and women’s rugby and sports like that are all brushed under and men will take the headlines.”

As an ambassador for women in IT, Phil encourages women’s involvement in the sector and has been involved in promoting International Women’s Day.

“Why should it just be one day? Yes, one day to promote it but women should be promoted in their sport and in their field every day just like the men, men get 364 days whereas women just get the one.”

Phil said that the atmosphere after her recent success in Athlone was “absolutely super” and that her training on the lead up to the sprint paid off on the day.

“It was absolutely super to set the record on my home turf. The record stood for 17 years so to break that and add it to one of my collections feels great.

“As well as having a great race, there was a great atmosphere. It was a sold-out crowd and there were so many children.

“Even to give them the time after to sign autographs, take pictures, different things like that, that’s going to encourage them.

Phil said that balancing her masters in Waterford Institute of Technology with training six days a week, sometimes having two sessions per day, takes a lot of commitment and that sacrifices have to be made but her support networks give her whatever she needs.

“The college is absolutely super both sporting wise and academic wise and they give me whatever I need.

“It’s just about being mentally prepared, physically prepared and just going out there, enjoying the moment, soaking up the atmosphere and putting in your best performance,” she said.

This theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘an equal world is an enabled world’ celebrating women’s achievement, raising awareness against bias, and taking action for equality.

Phil will speak about her sporting career at the AIB Future Sparks festival which will take place on March 26.

The careers festival is aimed at senior cycle students and is designed inspire students for their future career choices.

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