independent

Monday 10 December 2018

Archaic attitudes have to be changed

Weird Wide World of Sport

Emma Hansberry of Wexford Youths, 14, celebrates with team-mate Kylie Murphy after scoring her side’s second goal during the Continental Tyres Women’s National League match between Wexford Youths and Cork City at Ferrycarrig Park
Emma Hansberry of Wexford Youths, 14, celebrates with team-mate Kylie Murphy after scoring her side’s second goal during the Continental Tyres Women’s National League match between Wexford Youths and Cork City at Ferrycarrig Park

Dave Devereux

After the final credits rolled on Match of the Day 2 on Sunday, I remained glued to the couch and fixated on BBC 1 as I watched The Women's Football Show.

Viewing figures for the highlights programme are on the rise and it's no wonder, when you can watch breath-taking football from the likes of Arsenal, who have started the season like a powerful juggernaut.

Closer to home, the ambitious '20x20' campaign, which aims to increase participation, attendance and coverage of women's sport by 20 per cent by the year 2020, has to be applauded, but it's definitely going to be a tough task to get long-held archaic attitudes to change.

The interest garnered by the Irish hockey team's fairytale run to the World Cup final shows that the appetite is there but, almost as a rule, women's sports are allowed to fade away into the background until the next unlikely heroic performance on the international stage.

Ireland coach Graham Shaw, who was thrust into the limelight during that memorable tournament in London, illustrated the difficulty in changing the mindset of some, when revealing he was asked when he was going to do the men's national job.

While the perception that working in women's sport is a mere stepping stone to getting a 'proper' managerial role remains, it's going to be difficult to move forward.

Also, the head-scratching tale relayed by highly-decorated G.A.A. star Rena Buckley about how she was not considered worthy of handing out medals to a boys' team shows just how deep the dinosaur mentality goes when it comes to cultural beliefs surrounding women in sport.

If a player with a record-breaking 18 All-Ireland medals between both codes isn't seen as a bona fide star in her home county, then what chance have mere mortals trying to make their way in their sport of choice got?

The stark reality is that women's sport only attracts one per cent of the lucrative sponsorship market at present, but extra coverage will lead to greater opportunities.

Generally the national media merely pays lip service to women's sport, normally reserving coverage for the once a year big days, or sitting up and taking notice when a team garners success that captures the imagination of the country, the Irish hockey and rugby teams being cases in point.

Some would argue that broadcasters largely ignore our sporting women because the public interest just isn't there. Although it could be equally argued that more coverage creates more interest and attendances and viewing figures would grow as a result.

The massive following that Katie Taylor has built up, for example, shows that it's more about talent than gender when it comes to capturing the imagination of the public.

The record attendance of over 50,000 that turned out to watch Dublin beating Cork in the All-Ireland ladies' football final showed that the enthusiasm is there for the marquee teams on big occasions, but keeping the interest there throughout the year is the real test.

I attended the Continental Tyres Women's National League match between Wexford Youths and Cork City at Ferrycarrig Park on Saturday evening, a game which saw the Slaneysiders clinch their fourth title in five years.

The players have a loyal band of supporters who passionately cheer them on from the stand, but their achievements deserve greater backing from the general public, and football fans from the Model county should make every effort to support them on cup final day in the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, November 4.

Young girls need strong sporting role models to look up to, so they can aspire to reach their world class levels, whether it be jockey Rachael Blackmore, soccer star Louise Quinn or boxer Katie Taylor.

Seeing their sporting icons in the flesh or on their television screens more often can only have a positive effect, leading to increased participation and interest.

The '20x20' campaign is certainly a step in the right direction, but nothing will change until the general public alter their perception of women's sport.

Of course, the media can always do more to promote women in sport, but if half the people who took to social media to condemn the lack of coverage actually paid to go through the turnstiles, things would change for the better a whole lot quicker.

Wexford People