IRELAND manager Vera Pauw believes that the postponement of major international tournaments as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen women’s sport forced to play second fiddle to men’s sport.
It was only in recent weeks — after this year’s Euro 2020 and Olympic Games had already been put back a year — that Uefa officially confirmed that the women’s Euro 2021 finals, for which Ireland are well in the qualification hunt, would be deferred until 2022.
“We need to be used to that,” said Pauw. “Women’s sport in general is always put in second place and the fact that these tournaments were being put on the (original) date of our tournament, without even any discussion with stakeholders, that says in itself that women’s sport need to adapt to men’s sport.
“And that’s not only in football. The world cycling union has given a calendar of the change of events for men’s cycling — women’s cycling is not even part of that. So it’s not only in football, it’s everywhere. And we need to fight for each other and show every time again that that is not the way that it should be. So far it is the case. We can jump up and down but the thing is we now have clarity and I hope that there are very good reasons why the decision only came so late.
“The men’s Euros had been replaced, then the Olympic Games had been replaced — and weeks later the you get the women’s tournament being replaced, which was overlapping with the Olympic Games and getting close to the men’s Euros. So I’m not so sure what are the pros and negatives. I just know that we’re the last in line because even the youth development tournaments had been replaced already.
“There must have been a very good reason, though. I think behind the scenes there has been a lot of discussion on what is best for the women’s game and, if you see the letter from Uefa (explaining the decision), it more or less highlights that — that it has taken some time because they want to have the best for the women’s game. But if this is the best, I don’t know. We’ll see.”
At least one “big benefit” of the postponement for Ireland, Pauw observed, is “that some players can get healthy again”.
But the delay of a full year would also suggest there could be some significant change in Pauw’s squad by the time the campaign ends, hopefully, with a first-ever qualification for the Euro finals which will be held in England.
“Every year there are players stepping up and players who are dropped or retire from football,” she said.
“I’m sure that you mean ones like Áine O’Gorman who was already retired and came back and did a fantastic job (in the last two qualifying wins, against Greece and Montenegro). If she plays like this, no player is too old if you perform and no player is too young if you perform. We go for the best squad and it will be slightly different than a year earlier because that is a natural process but I’m not saying that all those players will not be there any more.”
Meanwhile, talks have already begun between the FAI and Pauw on a contract extension for the manager following the decision put back the 2021 Euro finals until 2022, and the more
immediate impact of the coronavirus pandemic, in terms of the postponement of games, on Ireland’s qualifying campaign.
HOWEVER, Pauw insists that the contract situation is not any kind of distraction for her.
“Not at all,” she said. “I am probably very pragmatic in that it’s just something that needs to be arranged. I’ve got no worries at all. No, it doesn’t distract me at all. It’s not even in my mind. It will be arranged.”
On the practical impact of the finals being put back a year, she said: “Everything is moved forward so we will get a congestion of games later on because the World Cup qualifying matches will start while preparing for a tournament — if we qualify.
“So our focus is first on getting the qualification and getting our (three remaining) games planned, because that is not done yet, and making sure we qualify for 2022. We just take it the way it is and if things change again, then we adapt again. It don’t see it as a problem, I just see it as the circumstances we have.”
Currently top of the Group 1 table, Ireland were due to play favourites Germany away in April before the pandemic put paid to that game and also to a scheduled June trip to Ukraine.
But Pauw maintains that a potential loss of momentum, on the back of two successive victories for Ireland, should not be an issue when those yet to be re-arranged games — followed by the final qualifier, Germany’s visit to Dublin — finally do come around, which, according to reports, could now be between September and November.
“If you look at all the positive feedback that we get from the people in Ireland, I think when that game comes, the stadium will be packed because everybody wants to support us in these difficult times,” she said. “I truly have no doubt Irish people will come out and support us and will maybe even be more fanatic to be there for us.
“The home games are so important. We get such a boost from the atmosphere in Tallaght Stadium — though whether we play all the games there is not decided yet — but the vibe that you get and the true support from the crowd, pulls us over difficult moments. It is really something very, very special.”
But if it turns out that some or all of those games have to be played behind closed doors — as was her team’s most recent qualifier, a 3-0 win in Montenegro — Pauw said it’s just something else the Irish will have to deal with.
“If that’s the situation, it would be a shame, but we will play the games like that.”