New Women in Sport Policy takes the persuasive approach

Fund aims to increase female participation in sport and boost visibility of sportswomen

Federation of Irish Sport CEO Mary O’Connor, Teneo MD  Kelli O’Keeffe, Sport Ireland chair Lynne Cantwell, Swim Ireland CEO  and Olympic Federation of Ireland president Sarah Keane, Clare Sports Partnership co-ordinator John Sweeney, broadcaster Joanne Cantwell and Paralympics Ireland president John Fulham at the    Sport Ireland Women In Sport Policy Launch at Dublin’s National Indoor Arena. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Federation of Irish Sport CEO Mary O’Connor, Teneo MD Kelli O’Keeffe, Sport Ireland chair Lynne Cantwell, Swim Ireland CEO and Olympic Federation of Ireland president Sarah Keane, Clare Sports Partnership co-ordinator John Sweeney, broadcaster Joanne Cantwell and Paralympics Ireland president John Fulham at the Sport Ireland Women In Sport Policy Launch at Dublin’s National Indoor Arena. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Sport Ireland could probably have saved themselves a lot of time and effort and avoided appointing a 10-strong steering committee if they had just chosen 15-year-old Emily Riordan to oversee their efforts to boost female participation levels in sport.

“School is good,” she told the audience at the National Indoor Arena on Thursday, “because they make you do sport whether you like it or not.”

If Emily had her way, then, she might just recommend making sport compulsory for the female of the species, thus bringing the current figure of 40.8 per cent who participate regularly up to the full one hundred.

Sport Ireland’s new Women in Sport Policy doesn’t, though, go down that mandatory route, opting instead for a more persuasive approach, identifying four “key target areas” based on research it carried out last year on “the current landscape” for women in sport. It wants to increase female participation levels, see more women involved in “coaching and officiating” and in “leadership and governance”, and it aims to boost the “visibility” of sportswomen.

Back in 2015 students at the University of Leicester very usefully worked out how much paper would be required to print the entire internet, their conclusion being that it would use up around one per cent of the Amazon rainforest.

The printing of research, surveys and policy papers on women in sport over the years would probably result in the felling of considerably more of those trees, but Lynne Cantwell expressed the hope that within five years enough progress will have been made to rule out the need for even more.

‘Locked doors’

The former rugby international, who will lead the newly appointed steering committee, recalled during her playing days “lots of locked doors” as the women’s game tried to progress, players “suffocated by the resistance”.

“What we hope is that in five years we won’t be talking about such barriers anymore, and that we’ll be talking just about sport rather than ‘women’s sport’.”

To that end, the Women in Sport fund will be increased to €2 million annually and will be used to try to make progress in those target areas, along with a commitment to investing in programmes that encourage more women and girls to take up sport, to fund “coach education” programmes for women and to “recognise and reward governing bodies of sport who have achieved gender diversity at board level”.

Eve McCrystal just wants a velodrome, though. The multi-medalled Paralympic cyclist, along with Katie-George Dunlevy, has experienced unrelenting success at World and Olympic level, despite Ireland not possessing the most basic of facilities for her sport.

“We’ve the World Track Championships . . . what day is it? Next week,” she told RTÉ’s Joanne Cantwell, another member of the steering committee (“and no relation,” said Lynne.) “I still don’t have a velodrome in this country,” she added. “No pressure, John,” Cantwell said to John Treacy, chief executive of Sport Ireland, who was sitting in the front row.

Green-lighted

“I’m prepared for next week,” said McCrystal, “but not as prepared as I would be if we had a velodrome.” Lest Treacy didn’t hear her first time. But he reassured her that she would have one next year, the Government having green-lighted the funding.

More facilities and less policy papers, then, might be a route to take.

Sometimes Mom asks me do I really want to go to the Olympics? I’m like, ‘I can’t believe you’re even asking me that’

Emily, meanwhile, has her own sporting ambitions, and she can’t see a reason in the world why she can’t achieve them. A promising sailor with the yacht club out in Dún Laoghaire, who, need it be said, idolises Annalise Murphy, her hope is that she can follow in Murphy’s wake.

“Sometimes Mom asks me do I really want to go to the Olympics? I’m like, ‘I can’t believe you’re even asking me that.’”

She made for compulsory listening.

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