A permanent Women in Sport Lead and the rewarding of sporting bodies who achieve greater gender diversity at board level are the main elements of Sport Ireland’s new Women in Sport Policy - further boosted by an increased annual fund of €2 million.
The position of Women in Sport Lead will be filled presently, and a 10-person steering committee has also been named to oversee the implementation of the policy: chaired by former Irish women's rugby international Lynne Cantwell, this will include asking the 58 National Governing Bodies (NGB's) to set gender diversity targets and develop equality action plans.
Last month, an overall package of €31.8 million was announced towards investment in the 58 NGB’s, plus the 29 Local Sports Partnerships across: for the last three years, the allocation for women in sport was €600,000, but is increasing to €2m from 2019, with NGB’s now being invited to submit specific requests as part of a competitive-bid process and Sport Ireland programmes at a national level.
Sport Ireland established the Women in Sport Programme in 2005, allocating an extra €750,000 primarily aimed at increasing participation among younger woman; this is the first time they’ve set out a specific women in sport policy document.
In March of last year, the Women in Sport review was established to refresh the strategic approach to women in sport to reflect present-day challenges and opportunities: the result of that piece of work is now the policy document, aligned with the Government’s National Sports Policy 2018 to 2027.
“We are delighted to have put in place a Women in Sport Steering Committee that is full of experience and expertise, which will oversee the delivery of the policy,” said Sport Ireland Director of Participation and Ethics, Dr Una May. “It is our intention that this will lead to a step-change in the landscape for women’s participation in sport across the board from grassroots to leadership.
“The publication of this policy is an important development for sport in Ireland. Sport Ireland is tasked with overseeing action 32 of the National Sports Policy 2018-2017, which promotes gender diversity and equality action plans.”
Among the key aims of the policy is to have equal participation between males and females in sport. At adult level, the gap has closed from 15.7 per cent to 4.5 per cent since 2007 (according to the Irish Sports Monitor 2017). Other areas aren’t faring so well: in terms of visibility, the proportion of sports print media articles devoted to women’s sport is just three per cent (according to Sport Ireland research 2015).
“Sport Ireland began an extensive review in 2018, which examined the current landscape of women in sport in Ireland, identifying any barriers to their participation in all areas of sport,” said Cantwell, who remains Ireland’s most capped women’s rugby player.
“Through the hosting of focus groups, gathering and analysing qualitative and quantitative research on women’s involvement in sport, identifying international best practice in the area of advancing involvement in sport, and consultation with key stakeholders on the barriers and opportunities, Sport Ireland has developed this policy which we feel will have a significant impact of the future of women’s sport in Ireland. Together with the new Women in Sport Steering Committee, I look forward to overseeing the implementation of this ambitious policy.”
The full-time Women in Sport Lead (the positioned has been offered to a yet unnamed candidate) will be tasked with leading out the development and promotion of women and girl’s involvement in sport from leadership to participation to high performance. She will also lead, advocate for, and evaluate this policy.
The policy identifies four key areas of focus, where Sport Ireland wants to make a significant, positive and measurable impact," added Sport Ireland chief executive, John Treacy. "Our work in the area of Women in Sport over the coming years will be centred on coaching and officiating, active participation, leadership and governance and visibility, and in order to help us deliver on the policy, Sport Ireland will shortly be appointing a Women in Sport Lead."
Sport Ireland Women in Sport Steering Committee -
Lynne Cantwell, Chair - Sport Ireland Board
Joanne Cantwell - Broadcaster, RTÉ Sport
Mary Dorgan - Sport Ireland Board
Jenny Egan - International Athlete, Canoeing
John Fulham - President, Paralympics Ireland
Frances Kavanagh - Former Director of Sport, Special Olympics Ireland
Sarah Keane - Chief Executive, Swim Ireland/President, Olympic Federation of Ireland
Mary O’Connor - Chief Executive, Federation of Irish Sport
Kelli O’Keeffe - Managing Director, Teneo
John Sweeney - Coordinator, Clare Sports Partnership
Women in Sport Policy - Four Key Areas -
1. Coaching and Officiating: Broaden the coaching base to include more women from grassroots to high performance; Increase the number of women officiating and refereeing
2. Active Participation: Significantly reduce the active sport participation gradient between men and women; reduce the drop-out from physical activity and sport in young girls
3. Leadership and Governance: Progress towards greater gender balance in Board membership of funded bodies; provide a pathway for women aspiring to become leaders of funded bodies
4. Visibility: Increase the visibility and profile of our female role models in sport; use the heroes of today to inspire the next generation of future Olympians and Paralympians