Creating a brighter future for female sports

Mayo footballer Sarah Rowe at yesterday’s launch of the 20x20 campaign which aims to create a measurable cultural shift in how women’s sport is perceived.

By Cliona Foley

A nationwide campaign to shift Ireland’s cultural perception of women’s sport — called ‘20x20’ — aims to increase participation, attendance, and coverage of it by 20% by the year 2020.

Some of the problems it seeks to address were underlined at yesterday’s launch, most starkly by Cork legend Rena Buckley.

She revealed that, after being invited to present juvenile medals to boys and girls teams at one club last year, she was told on arrival that the men’s (GAA) side didn’t want her to present them to their U12 boys.

Graham Shaw, the man who coached Ireland to reach the 2018 women’s hockey World Cup final, said there still needs to be “a massive cultural shift” in attitudes towards female athletes.

“After the success of the women’s team I was out the other evening and two lads asked me ‘when are you going to do the men’s (national) job?’” he said.

“I looked at them like: ‘What? I just won a silver medal in the World Cup and I want to be with these for the next six, eight, 10 years if I can, because I feel this team can get to the next level’.

It’s a mindset we need to change.

The 20x20 campaign aims to make women more active and valued in sport and is the brainchild of Sarah Colgan and Heather Thornton who run a creative agency called Along Came a Spider.

Nine months ago, they approached the Federation of Irish Sport (FIS), an umbrella group for over 100 sporting organisations, which is now driving the 20x20 initiative.

FIS CEO Mary O’Connor said the campaign’s strength is that it forces people to take individual, affirmative action.

“Under the banner ‘if she can’t see it she can’t be it’ we have set the challenge,” O’Connor said. “Today is only the start but we have the opportunity here to empower real change.”

Sport Ireland has invested over €18m in women’s sport since 2005 by funding initiatives designed and run by individual sporting bodies.

Sport Ireland chief executive John Treacy said they will be launching their own national women’s sport strategy next February but said “this campaign will complement what we are doing”.

The 20x20 campaign is funded by five sponsors (AIG, Investec, KPMG, Lidl, and Three) however the cost was not revealed. O’Connor said: “There is a cost to it but we’re not dwelling on that. There’s a commitment there for two years that they, and us, are going to drive this campaign.”

Women’s only sport currently attracts just 1% of the sponsorship market. Research by Neilsen, commissioned by the 20x20 campaign, has found that just 3% of print coverage and 4% of online coverage goes to women’s only sport, while less than 20% of all TV sport features women only or mixed sport.

O’Connor said Neilsen and sporting bodies will gather and provide statistics over the next two years to measure if their 20% target is achieved.

Casey Stone, head coach of Manchester United’s women’s team and leading Irish racing trainer, Jessica Harrington were among yesterday’s speakers. The campaign has appointed golfers Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow, Ireland and Arsenal defender Louise Quinn, Mayo footballer Sarah Rowe and Dublin camogie player Laura Twomey, as ambassadors.

Harrington said: “It was, and it still is a cultural thing, where you have ‘women trainers’.

Every role model I had growing up, as jockeys or trainers, were men.

“Now there are girls out there who can see what Katie Walsh, Nina Carberry, and Rachael Blackmore have achieved. That will encourage more women to do it and hopefully, more women will become trainers because of what I’ve been lucky enough to achieve.”

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