The announcement by Minister for Sport Patrick O’Donovan yesterday that sports bodies will have State funding cut unless at least 30% of their board members are female was broadly welcomed yesterday.
Joan O’Flynn, chief executive of the Camogie Association, described the move as “the start of a process” and pointed out boards with fewer than 30% male members would also need to change.
“I’d certainly welcome the debate on it, a debate I’m sure will mirror the debates we’ve seen recently about quotas in politics, quotas on the boards of corporates and state boards and so on.
“It’s important the debate on sport isn’t isolated, either - that it forms part of a wider debate about the under- representation of women in several aspects of society. You take that as a starting point.
“Sport is obviously a sector that cuts across all ages, all profiles and increasingly across genders, so from that point of view, the debate’s timely.”
O’Flynn dismissed suggestions a quota system would be tokenism. “I think it’s about starting points - if you accept that, and the data would be fairly clear on that, then the question is whether there’s a quick and effective way to improve that situation.
“It’s accepted the situation is not perfect, and women are under-represented and that that’s important and needs to be improved - then what is the way to improve that situation? Quotas are a nudge in that direction and better than patiently waiting into infinity for something to happen. From that point of view it’s certainly something to be welcomed.
“The tokenism argument is something that’ll always be made, but what quotas do is they bring people into the fold.
“It would make women as well as men present for decision-making and ensure there’s quality decision- making - and at the very least there’s a diversity of experiences and perspectives there which might not fully be there at the moment.”
Emer Barry, Waterford County Board development officer and formerly board PRO, also welcomed the announcement.
“Only last weekend I noticed Glasgow Celtic appointed a woman as a director of the club for the first time, Sharon Brown, so you can see this is something that’s happening in other sports and other countries as well.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea because it will ensure recognition of women in sporting organisations, and I’d also be hopeful it would encourage more women to get involved in sports organisations.
“You only have to go to an underage game in almost any sport and generally you see more mothers and fathers on the sideline, so it’s not as if they’re not involved already, but the reality is that when it comes to more senior positions within organisations they’re shunted aside.”
Barry could cite examples from Gaelic games though she pointed out “the mindset has to change” for more improvements.
“In GAA terms I think it’s only recently enough women have begun to make a breakthrough in the Association. I was the first female officer elected in Waterford, Tracey Kennedy was elected in Cork and is vice-chair, and in Tyrone a couple of years ago Roisin Jordan was elected chair of the county board.
“I think the mindset has to change, there can be a lot of conservative, traditional views in sporting bodies, because at the same time you’re talking about a huge cohort of the population which hasn’t been represented properly, and that’s something that people wouldn’t stand over if it was in any other walk of life.”
The fact gender under- representation would be unacceptable in other walks of life was developed further by O’Flynn: “Once upon a time you had a situation where women’s participation in sport was far less, and there definitely wasn’t mixed-gender participation in sport to the extent that exists now.
“Clearly society is changing, and sport is one of the structures of society - it’s healthy to review it, and if there’s an issue of under- representation then quotas are a quick way of addressing that under-representation, but I would say it’s only the start of a process.
“In terms of governance you want people who have the skills, who have the capacity, who must be supported, who have that diversity of experiences.
“Gender is part of that but while it’s not all of it, at least if people are present at decision-making, they have some sort of footing within the process.”
O’Flynn said it wasn’t just a matter of women being co-opted onto boards - the Camogie Association would need more male board members, for instance. “Our board, governing a women’s sport, will need change as well. The decision will have implications for us and for other similar boards also, which is something that people may not realise.
“Because men are underrepresented on our board, we’ll need more men, so if people are seeing this as just going in one direction, they’re wrong, though I wouldn’t want to make a huge deal out of that. Clearly it’ll apply mostly to women being put on boards.”
GAA officials plan to study the proposals in more detail before commentating further.
“As a family-based organisation, the GAA welcomes efforts to increase the participation of women and girls across the sporting spectrum. A growing number of ladies have taken on officer roles in recent years, a trend we hope to see continue,” a GAA spokesperson said.
“However, democracy lies at the heart of the process that facilitates the appointment of the vast majority of our officials and in light of this morning’s announcement a wider discussion is needed to assess its potential impact.
“The GAA was not involved in drawing up the gender quota plan and will now take the opportunity to study it in detail with the relevant internal forums before commenting further.”
The FAI said it would be “inappropriate to comment on the Minister’s proposals at this time, since the FAI has not yet been consulted in relation to the proposals”.
However, Irish football’s governing body did reiterate its commitment to the promotion of women in the game, saying it is “essential and central to their work.”
In a statement, the FAI said: “In 2016, following consultation and negotiation, the Women’s Football Association of Ireland disbanded and the administration of women’s football came under the remit of the FAI. Part of this negotiating process was to have a guaranteed position on the Board of the Association from women’s football, within the next 12 months.
“A number of important staff and volunteer positions are held by women within the Association including: FAI Company Secretary, Director of Business Partnerships, Head of Legal and Club Licensing, HR Manager, Chair of the Audit Committee and Chair of the Women’s Football Committee. In addition the women’s game has been represented on Council for the past 20 years. Council is of course the ultimate governing body of the Association with power to remove the Board.”
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