Leona Maguire has vision to back 20x20 plan

As talented a golfer as Leona Maguire undoubtedly is, the former world amateur number one acknowledges that sport has also been good to her.

She further understands there is still much more work to do if Irish females are to get a representative share of the limelight with their male counterparts.

Which is why the 23-year-old, newly-turned professional after a stellar career as an Irish international, Walker Cup golfer and US collegiate star, is getting behind the Federation of Irish Sport’s recently launched 20x20 campaign as an ambassador on behalf of sponsors KPMG.

The 20x20 campaign, unveiled last month, is calling on the people of Ireland to rally behind female sport in an effort to grow involvement, boost attendances and increase media coverage. The aim of the campaign, developed by creative agency Along Came A Spider, is to boost involvement in female sport by 20% by the end of 2020 and Maguire needed little persuasion in throwing her support behind 20x20.

“It’s a huge honour for me to be involved in this fantastic initiative,” said Maguire. 

“Getting more females involved in sport is something I’ve always been passionate about. From a young age, sport has been a huge part of my life and growing up I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunities that I’ve had because of sport.

“I’ve had parents and coaches in my life that have given me the opportunities to play sport and it’s something I want to try and do more, through this initiative for female athletes in Ireland, to try and boost participation, attendance at games and media coverage by 20% by 2020 and give girls in Ireland the biggest opportunity possible.”

The clock is ticking, but Maguire believes a 20% increase in such a short space of time is attainable.

“I think it’s more than achievable. There’s a lot of very good partners involved in this and Along Came a Spider did a great job with the concept and the backing from the Federation of Irish Sport and basically all the national governing bodies and to have five fantastic sponsors behind it as well (KPMG, Investec, Lidl, AIG and 3) as well, so I think in these first few weeks, the impact it’s had, you can tell straight away it’s very promising.

“Sport in general in Ireland is and has been huge. I think any time you see Irish sportspeople doing well, it doesn’t matter who they are, where they’re from or what sport it is really, the Irish public gets behind it 100%, so I think the same will be the case for this campaign, because we love sport here and, if we can get more girls playing and doing well, I think people will want to be cheering them on. Everyone in the country is always in a better mood when there’s something great going on in the world of sport in Ireland.”

Maguire gave credit to her own sport’s governing body, the Irish Ladies Golf Union, for providing her with the opportunity to play and for being consistently proactive in growing the game for girls and women across the island.

“I’ve been involved with the ILGU since I was 12 or 13 and it’s been great to watch it grow over the past 10 years. They’ve had a lot of programmes, a lot of initiatives that definitely I’ve benefited from.

“There’s opportunities available now for girls that weren’t available even 10 years ago so to see that improvement has been massive and I think bringing golf into the Olympics has given it a huge boost as well. Obviously, the better girls do, the more you see them in the media and, the more media coverage, the more people come out and watch women’s events and the more girls get involved in the game too.”

She also recognises that she and twin sister Lisa, who also turned professional last May, have enjoyed a lot of media coverage in Ireland throughout their careers and that makes her a good advocate of a campaign such as the 20x20 initiative.

“I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had a lot of support in the Irish media and throughout my entire career they’ve always been good to myself and my sister Lisa. No matter where we were playing there was always some sort of media coverage.

“I think when you’re growing up you always want role models to look up to and, for all the young girls playing golf today or thinking about playing golf, I’d like to hope that they look up to me and hopefully I can use the platform I have to encourage them and help them out.

“I think that is something that wasn’t quite there when I was starting the game. There were no big-name female professional golfers to look up to, it was mostly the men to look up to. It was Pádraig Harrington and Shane (Lowry) and Darren (Clarke) and Paul McGinley and guys like that who were setting the trend for Irish golf.

“So, it’s good to have a platform so that I can encourage young Irish girls to take up the game and share my experiences with them.”

Though this is all about reaching goals by 2020, it is clearly an initiative that will need to stay front and centre beyond that date. Maguire insisted she was ready for the fight.

“Right now, 2020 is a really good goal and I think it’s just a checkpoint along the way,” said Maguire.

“This is part of a much bigger journey, but we’ve set these preliminary goals for 2020 and hopefully we can get to 20% and maybe a little bit more and then keep on improving and improving all the time.

“I guess this is something you’re never going to be finished with, but as of now, it seems a little bit more achievable by splitting it up into short-term goals.

“That’s one thing you learn a lot about in sport, splitting things up into smaller goals and this is the goal for right now.”

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