Women in sport - Give gender inequalities a red card

Colm Cooper, one of the great Gaelic footballers, retired from inter-county competition yesterday. 

Women in sport - Give gender inequalities a red card

The four-time All-Ireland winner was celebrated as one of the finest forwards of this time or of any other time.

The coverage of his announcement was, deservedly, celebratory and comprehensive.

Anyone even vaguely interested in the day-to-day of Ireland could not but have been aware that a significant, once-in-a-generation figure had, on their own terms, stepped from the public stage to embrace life’s next offerings. That is exactly how it should be.

Just as The Gooch surrendered his Kerry jersey after a 14-year tenancy the Irish National Women’s Football team held a press conference to highlight issues that have led to them being described as “the dirt at the end of the FAI’s shoe”.

Yesterday morning, a dozen Irish internationals complained that they were not supported in a way that encourages the women’s game.

They complained that they were not properly compensated when they come home to play for Ireland.

It was also claimed that they had to share tracksuits with the underage teams and were put in the “humiliating” situation of having to change in an airport.

These are hardly the standards that facilitate international success.

The contrast between the hurrah-me-boys celebration of Cooper’s wonderful career and the struggles faced by our women’s national team could not be greater.

Sadly, that contrast seems to perfectly illustrate the second-class citizenship conferred on women’s sports.

This impression is strengthened by the fact that we are still in an era of “firsts” for women’s sports.

In recent weeks the first Ladies’ National Football League match was held in Croke Park.

The game was played between Dublin and Mayo but the attendance was very poor. Last year’s All-Ireland camogie semi-finals were the first broadcast live.

This year Channel 4 won a bidding war for the live TV rights for women’s soccer’s 2017 European Championships.

Ireland hosts the Women’s Rugby World Cup later this year, a world-scale event which is bound to generate momentum, albeit belatedly, around women’s sports.

These small steps forward run parallel to entirely predictable embarrassments.

Soccer manager David Moyes may have spoken with his tongue in his cheek when he warned a female reporter that “you were just getting a wee bit naughty at the end there, so just watch yourself.  You still might get a slap even though you’re a woman” but it was entirely inappropriate.

It is certain that he would never even joke like that with a male reporter.

That barely concealed sexism seems alive here too.

Just last January Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Patrick O’Donovan proposed that sports bodies’ State funding would be cut unless at least 30% of their board positions were taken by women.

The proposal did not even get a polite yellow card but an immediate red one — the proposal was sidelined even before it could be considered.

The benefits sports offer do not recognise gender.

Health, self-confidence, discipline, teamwork and self-control are attributes successful sports people like Cooper must have.

It’s time for parity of esteem for everyone on our playing fields.

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