Joanne O’Riordan: The future is now for women’s sport

Ladies football and soccer have made great strides in recent years and other sports are quite capable of following suit given proper investment and resources

It’s such a funny experience watching athletics, swimming, field events, cycling or any one of the sports during the European championship bonanza.

As someone who is so used to watching dedicated weekends, dedicated tournaments, and dedicated months for women’s sports, it is exciting and fascinating to watch how women’s sport compares when it is side-by-side with men’s.

We saw during the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, when Sydney McLaughlin won her 400m hurdles at a canter, breaking the world record she had set at the Olympics.

There is no automatic comparison to her male counterparts, and there was no “if she was a man, this would’ve happened”. It was sheer respect for an incredible athlete who is currently dominating the track.


If there is anything I have gleaned from watching women’s sports that are held alongside the men’s, it’s that women’s sports shouldn’t be seen primarily as inspiration.

There is no narrative around “the little girl of the future”. There is no discussion about equal pay, equal access to facilities and everything that you’re so used to hearing when watching women’s sports during a dedicated tournament for women. The focus is solely on athletes, their achievements, their failures and how they’ll bounce back.

Inspirational platitudes can come at a cost, especially when federations and sporting organisations don’t dedicate adequate resources to the women’s game.

Those who have followed women’s sports for a long time and have advocated on their behalf have seen that inspiration, unfortunately, is not enough. In fact, it is time to leave the era of inspiration behind us and follow what athletics, swimming, cycling or any of the other major sports are doing right now.

It’s time to become ambitious. It’s about translating what the other sports have, which is respect and real vision.

I’m sure the IAAF sees what the future of 400m hurdles looks like and considers it a potential cash cow in terms of marketing. I’m certain sponsors notice the talent and are clamouring for a name on their contract.

Even at the European Championships on Monday night, there was a novel shotput final which saw men’s and women’s finals occur simultaneously on opposite ends of the field with the 10,000m around it.

Although essential parts of the 10,000m women’s final were missed because the TV director focused on the shotput, it was great to see men and women co-existing and not fighting for your attention. If effort really is equal, then attention and opportunities must be equal as well.

We’ve now seen how ladies football, camogie and soccer have earned that respect from recent finals this year.

It’s up to the relevant organisers and volunteers involved to know that value and start demanding more. TG4 and Lidl have singlehandedly revolutionised ladies football by making it accessible and visible. It’s up to coaches, chairpersons and others to match that effort and not hold the game back.

The beauty of women’s sport is we don’t have to replicate what the men are doing. I’ve seen it so many times in clubs, especially within the GAA world, how things can’t be done because the boys don’t have that opportunity, and if it’s not done with the boys, why should it be done with the girls? That attitude will get no one anywhere. We should reward success and creativity rather than put in a box, compare and dismiss them.

We need to embrace ambition. The Irish women’s rugby team are in Japan for a tour which will hopefully bring important eyes and attention to the women’s game, especially after a disappointing World Cup qualifying and Six Nations campaign.

The ambition here is demanding professional standards, smart hiring and long-term investment, the same with any other sport. The IRFU are issuing new contracts to players. They have answered the call, and it will take time to see the merit of those changes. Over time the long-term vision can be judged after each game to see if there’s progress.

The Meath ladies footballers and England women’s team weren’t built in a day. It was years of strategic planning and ensuring the right people were there at the right time. But, now we’ve learned. We don’t have to wait for a golden generation to come about.

Any era of teams can be golden when given adequate opportunities as well as the respect and treatment it deserves. Once again, that’s smart hiring and long-term investment.

We’ve seen this summer that it is potentially a golden era for women’s sport. We have now seen it’s not just for the girls of the future but the women of today. People, players, supporters and media outlets have been ready for a long time for this. The rest of the world and those in charge need to catch up.