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Which sports bodies have the best – and worst – representation of women on boards?

Sport organisations urged to ‘redouble’ efforts to meet minimum 40% target for female representation by end of 2023

Sports organisations have been urged to “redouble” efforts to improve the representation of women on their boards, amid a renewed warning of “financial consequences” for those that fail to reach a target of 40 per cent by the end of 2023.

Minister for Sport Catherine Martin wrote to National Governing Bodies (NGBs) after data from Sport Ireland showed that while improvements had been made, half of sporting organisations were still falling short of the 40 per cent target.

The ‘Big Three’ – the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) – still have boards made up of less than 40 per cent women.

Last weekend, the FAI appointed Niamh O’Mahony – the chief operating officer of Football Supporters Europe – to its board bringing female representation to 25 per cent.


The level of women on the GAA’s board is 21 per cent while at the IRFU it is just 13 per cent.

In letters sent last month, Ms Martin acknowledged progress made with an increase in the average number of women on NGB boards to 36 per cent. She said a “final push” was needed to get to 40 per cent on all boards.

Ms Martin wrote: “Some of our largest and highest profile sports have significant ground to make up… and it is vital that these sports show leadership”.

She added that “the Government has been very clear that there will be financial consequences in 2024″ for NGBs failing to meet the target, and she asked them to “redouble their efforts”.

The Government has previously mooted cuts in State funding of up to 50 per cent, with lower penalties for organisations that are close to the 40 per cent target.

The Minister of State for Sport Thomas Byrne said on Thursday that officials are to discuss the level of funding cuts that would apply with Sport Ireland. He told the Dáil there had been no decision yet “as to where the significant funding cuts would be if boards don’t meet these reasonable targets”.

The big three sporting organisations all said on Thursday that they are making efforts to reach the 40 per cent target.

The FAI is closest. When Roy Barrett announced earlier this month that he was stepping down as chairman, he said it provided an opportunity to ensure the FAI could meet the target.

He said: “This is something that I feel very strongly about, and I am convinced that this is in the best long-term interest of the FAI and the game of football in Ireland.”

A FAI spokesman said it is “committed to this 40 per cent target by the end of the year”. He also said there are three board vacancies at present and the FAI welcomes the opportunity to add female representation though the recruitment process.

The GAA said it is aware of the targets for gender representation, and “we continue to work in that direction in an effort to meet them”.

The IRFU said it is “in the process of finalising proposals which will allow it to meet the [40 per cent] gender balance target . . . by December 31st, 2023”.

Other organisations will struggle to meet the target. Snooker & Billiards Ireland (SBI) currently has no women on its board. The women’s game is under the remit of the Republic of Ireland Ladies Snooker Association (RILSA).

There are plans for closer collaboration between the two organisations, but an amalgamation appears unlikely in the near future.

SBI chairman Dylan Rees said his organisation is “very keen” to develop the partnership with RILSA but, for now, women board members for SBI may have to be recruited from “outside of our game”.

He added: “We will make every effort to try and get female representation on our committee.”

SBI got €80,000 in State funding in 2022, and Mr Rees said the prospect of losing some of its support if the 40 per cent target is missed is “a huge concern” for a support that is “rebuilding” and in a “delicate position”.

Sarah Keane is the chief executive of Swim Ireland and president of the Olympic Federation of Ireland, whose boards currently have 45 per cent and 43 per cent female representation respectively.

She told The Irish Times that diverse boards in the corporate and sports worlds are “better performing” because it “brings diversity of thought and it prevents group-thinking”.

Ms Keane said there is also “more trust in an organisation if people feel that they’re represented”.

She said that, around the world, sports organisations have been “built for men, by men” and it has taken “years and years to change that to make it for everybody”.

She said she believes the majority of Irish sports want to improve the gender representation balance, but added: “It’s not just about being on the board, it’s about being in positions of authority and power on the board.

“That’s the other part of governance that we’re still working on. It sometimes doesn’t get enough attention either, and that’s another thing to be focused on.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times