Women in sport still playing second fiddle


CAMOGIE PLAYERS have access to “premier facilities” for the first time, by being allowed to use county venues for senior championship matches this year, a debate on the role for women in sport and leisure has been told.

President of the Camogie Association of Ireland Joan O’Flynn described the move as a positive development.

She told the summer school debate that progress had also been made in media coverage of camogie, because RTÉ will broadcast both senior all-Ireland semi-finals tomorrow on its website rte.ie.

Ms O’Flynn noted, however, that the hottest topic of debate within the majority of camogie county boards she had visited was whether players should wear a skirt or shorts.

Camogie players currently wear “skorts”, a skirt/shorts combination.

Asked whether women’s current participation in sport reflected or challenged society, Dr Mary McAuliffe of UCD noted that a senior Co Kerry women’s football team who regularly win county championships, still has to play on an outlying pitch when the under-10 boys are practising on the main pitch.

Dr Leeann Lane of the Mater Dei Institute outlined the historical resistance to women playing sport.

In the 19th century women were “angels of the home”.

Many women opposed female participation outside the home and Dr Lane cited a 1913 article by Nora Tynan O’Mahony who said that if a woman sought “worldly power” she was losing her “royal prerogative as undisputed mistress and queen of the home and of her husband’s and children’s hearts”.

Dr McAuliffe said the cult of athleticism between 1850 and 1950 was absolutely masculine, a “muscular Christianity”.

Women became increasingly involved in politics and by 1916 it was clear they were “more than capable of organising and leading political campaigns”.

But the idea of women in sport was repudiated.

It would mean women behaved in an “unbridled, licentious and Amazonian manner towards men”.

Even today, professional sportswomen, particularly in tennis, still tread a fine line between being fit and athletic while remaining feminine.

Ms O’Flynn highlighted the media’s poor coverage of women in sport.

A survey of sports photographs in six national newspapers was carried out between 2002 and 2007, over a 15-day period each year.

In 2007 of 6,500 photographs, 78 were of women. In the best year 91 photos of 2,800 were of women.

Women get about 10 per cent of sports coverage, the majority of which is for tennis, Ms O’Flynn said.

She also noted a 2006 survey of 8,500 nine-year-olds which found that 43 per cent of boys wanted a career in sports but only 7 per cent of girls.

She believed that reflected the media coverage of women in sport and the need for “recognition of women as sporting equals to men”.

A member of the audience pointed out that professional golfer Caitriona Matthews won the women’s British Open earlier this month, but no daily paper had carried a photograph of her.