Mind the gap: The ongoing imbalance between men's and women's sport

Aside from higher salaries, male athletes generally enjoy more coverage, sponsorship and esteem than their female counterparts.

Mind the gap: The ongoing imbalance between men's and women's sport

By Aoife Geary

Aside from higher salaries, male athletes generally enjoy more coverage, sponsorship and esteem than their female counterparts. In Forbes’ ranking of the world’s highest paid athletes, not a single female featured in the top 20, while only two, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams featured in the top 50.

The Camogie Association get a fraction of the funding the GAA receives.
The Camogie Association get a fraction of the funding the GAA receives.

Last season, the FA Cup was won by Arsenal in both the men’s and women’s tournament but where the men received £1.8 million in prize money, the women received just £5000. The gender gap, in sport or otherwise, is not a new issue. Nor is the collection of possible explanatory arguments.

Arguments such as athleticism: If physiology determines the level at which sport is played, then in sports which are identical for men and women, such as football and rugby, women will always lag behind. To quote Kanye, men are in this regard, harder, better, faster, stronger and rewarded accordingly.

Another argument for the gender inequality is apathy. People simply don’t care enough about women’s sports for the media to cover it in a meaningful and consistent way and so breeds a cycle of minimal exposure leading to minimal engagement leading to minimal exposure. How can people get excited about women’s sport when it’s not adequately covered in the media? But how can the media justify covering subjects with little to no interest or engagement from audiences?

And last but not least: sexism. Women’s sport does not receive much recognition because we, as a society, continue to value men over women. In doing so, we adhere to traditional gender roles which deem aggressive field sports as inappropriate for females.

Leaving apathy, sexism and athleticism aside, surely women’s sport (and men’s sport alike) is primarily dictated by money. For women’s sports to flourish or increase in popularity there needs to be adequate investment.

In 2015, according to their website, the Irish Sports Council awarded €2.96 million to the GAA in core funding, and more than €3.1 million to the FAI with an additional €192,274 in Women in Sport funding. Meanwhile the Ladies Gaelic Football Association were awarded €384,655 and the Camogie association €378,519.

Bearing in mind that both men’s and women’s soccer is governed by the FAI, GAA funding appears particularly unjust.

Attendance at last year’s All-Ireland Ladies football final was more than 30,000 making it the highest attended women’s sporting event in Europe in 2015. Although attendance is up 4000 from 2014, it seems a hollow victory when you consider the men’s football final drew a crowd of 82,300.

In simple terms, sponsorship comes to the events which draw the biggest crowds. And how does any business draw large crowds? Promotion. Who cared about UFC until the PR machine that is Conor McGregor descended on our screens? Never before has the term meteoric rise been so overused (or so appropriate.) His ascent has been unrivalled in the history of UFC and a large part of his rapid success has to be attributed to his relentless self-promotion. Such self-promotion that has drawn an entire nation into his story and in so doing, earned him a generous pay packet.

Conor McGregor is currently the biggest draw in the UFC.
Conor McGregor is currently the biggest draw in the UFC.

Speaking about McGregor’s pay, Lorenzo Fertitta, CEO of UFC, brought it back to economics: “At the end of the day, it’s a business. The guy can literally drive numbers from a whole country. When Conor fights the entire country of Ireland shuts down. We get a 60% share of the TV market there.”

So how does one emulate the marketing prowess of “The Notorious” and apply it to women’s sports? Rework a few promotional slogans perhaps? “We’re not here to take part, we’re here to take part of the glory afforded to our male equivalents!”

In the case of ladies GAA, they shouldn’t have to. Whatever about the economics argument for professional sports, ie coverage/sponsorship must follow paying audiences, Gaelic games are about more than profitability. They are a section of our culture and our identity and they are relevant regardless of gender.

RTE has an obligation as a public service broadcaster to ensure equal coverage of men’s and women’s matches. Better scheduling of matches by the GAA and Ladies Associations could facilitate larger attendances in the women’s matches and thus pique interest in the sports.

Although the increase in figures surrounding attendance and viewership of women’s sport are encouraging, the vast difference in the promotion of men’s and women’s sports remains an issue. There is a somewhat untapped market for potential sponsorship and coverage of women’s events and now is the time for corporations to get involved, while women’s sport is on the up.

Follow the example of companies like AIG who have incorporated the ladies teams under their Dublin GAA sponsorship or Lidl who have invested €1.5 million in the Ladies Football Championship. The German chain have signed a three year deal making them the Official Retail Partner to the Ladies Gaelic Football Association. Part of the deal includes the launch of an extensive advertising and social campaign encouraging the #SeriousSupport of female athletes.

Women shouldn’t have to compete with men for audiences, there’s room for everyone if we can close the gender gap.

It’s not a new issue. But it's time it was.

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