Joanne O’Riordan: It’s time to invest in and support women’s sport

Financial rewards associated with women’s game set to explode as public interest grows

Invest in, support and hire women and the financial rewards from women’s sport will increase dramatically. Photograph: Kalle Parkkinen/Inpho

Invest in, support and hire women and the financial rewards from women’s sport will increase dramatically. Photograph: Kalle Parkkinen/Inpho

 

Women’s sport is now beginning to reach a pinnacle. It’s been a year since 20x20 ended, albeit the last year doesn’t count due to a global catastrophe. Women’s football has reached unprecedented new heights, and the FAI are selling the women’s national team to unique, fun and quirky partners; Gaelic games, although there are numerous hiccups, have had unprecedented attention and coverage. However, as this spotlight grows, so do the cobwebs that were supposed to be hidden.

In Ireland alone, the IRFU are the bad boys for supporting women, with multiple stories, inside tension and an apparent disregard for the women’s XVs. In the United States, the NWSL has had multiple emotional and psychological abuse accusations against some of its leading men, with former commissioner Lisa Baird forced to step down after she dismissed said allegations.

So, in truth, what we now need is a blueprint of sorts. Any administrator within the women’s game says nobody needs to follow any precedent set by men, women’s sports can get creative and generate interest in new and exciting ways, or as my brother tells me, when I’m doing new and exciting things, I’m doing nothing.

Various sporting government bodies are getting it right, for example, seeing the FAI go from asking players to change out of tracksuits in the toilet as said tracksuits were needed for underage boys squads to building long-standing relationships with brands and sponsors for the women’s national team and equal pay for both men and women.

But, one thing that makes more sense is ensuring across all sports that the players are protected when things don’t go well. The NWSL, only this year after everything, have introduced an anti-harassment policy after the players demanded it.

Female coaches, staff, executives, administrators are also crucial. I’ve no doubt this point will upset those who use the term snowflake yet freak out whenever they see minor inconveniences. But, we all know reporting to a peer or someone like you is easier than reporting to someone else.

Add to that the excuse that there aren’t that many women actually volunteering to do these things. That’s not because of women. That’s solely down to how sports and society are set up. Adding in fellowship or mentorship schemes for upcoming girls and women can show it’s not all about scoring the winner.

Some people within women’s sports believe that going closer towards professionalism might be bad for the game, or it’s coming too soon. This isn’t the case. A study revealed Kellie Harrington and Ellen Keane are our most marketable stars after their heroics in Tokyo. A Deloitte study recently predicted that broadcast and sponsorship revenue for women’s sports will soon exceed $1 billion globally. The WNBA’s viewership figures exploded, as the regular season averaged 306,000 viewers, up 49 per cent compared to 2020 and 24 per cent to 2019, according to ESPN - despite the fact ESPN put it on their other channels.

TG4 have continuously reaped the rewards for excellent ladies football coverage, and RTÉ are gradually getting there too. None of these stations are doing it out of the good of their hearts. They’re doing it because there’s real financial potential in developing something good.

Across all sports, there must be an overt, long-term plan to accommodate and help players if you can’t pay them. However, as crazy as it sounds, I think any player playing with the green jersey should be paid. Women’s sports needs to be seen as a career move rather than a moment or a movement.

Looking through the controversies over the last few years, from pitch access in Gaelic games, dressingroom catastrophe and lack of oversight with international teams and the IRFU, the real danger isn’t the chaos or the controversy driven by those within. The real issue is after every controversy or chaos passed, after the sacrificial lambs were offered up to those looking for heads, everything reverted back to the status quo.

These liabilities can be assets rather than PR disasters, women’s sports can be nimble and easy to mould, so rather than demanding players keep quiet to keep the image clean, these bad habits can be shaken off quickly to create new ones, ideas that have been researched, implemented and successful.

Instead of throwing money towards women’s sports and its administrators, the focus should be on short, medium and long-term goals and assessing financially what’s needed. For too long, this country has known that sometimes throwing money without follow-ups is possibly the worst thing you can do.

Nobody is asking anybody to recreate the wheel, absolutely use the ideas that have succeeded in men’s sports and learn from the failures, but understand that women’s sport has a stellar brand, unbelievable talent and has captured the nation’s imagination. Now, it’s time to push on, implement proper plans and schemes and use women’s games as role-models and trendsetters in the future.

All we’re looking for is three things – to invest in women, support women and hire women.

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