Former international hockey goalkeeper Sharon Hutchinson, a native of Limerick who moved to Cork with her family in her teens, is the creator of the website Sportswomen.ie, one she launched in January 2015 due of her frustration over the lack of coverage of women's sport in Ireland.
A graduate of UCC, which she left in 1996 with a PhD in Analytical Chemistry, Hutchinson has been heavily involved in sport all her life, working as a child officer at Cork Harlequins, with whom she won too many medals to count during her playing career, and helping found Kinsale Hockey Club in 2012. She is the mother of five children, aged between nine and fifteen.
Would it be safe to assume all your children are involved in sport, they couldn’t miss?
They are. My daughter, the eldest, plays hockey with Cork Harlequins and she’s on the Irish under-16 panel – not in goal, though.
She had too much sense?
She did! And the lads are all in to rugby, GAA, table tennis, soccer, whatever’s going on. So I spend half my life on the road.
It’s nearly 18 months now since you set up Sportswomen.ie, a labour of love?
It is. A time-consuming one too! I remember picking up a Sunday paper about six years ago and thinking ‘there is absolutely no women’s sport in here’, it was the first time it really hit me, although it had been going on for years. I sent a letter to them and told them if an alien from outer space arrived on earth and read the newspapers they wouldn’t even know that women play sport. I just think the national media should reflect society, and it wasn’t happening on that front.
Do you feel there has been much progress in that time?
It's definitely getting better, but I wouldn't say significantly so. For me, of course, it's not happening fast enough, although I think the Irish Times' Thursday section on sportswomen has been great, it's helped highlight the stories of all the brilliant sportswomen out there whose stories were rarely told. I do think 2015 was a year of change, women had had enough, it was a case of 'look at us too'. It was definitely a turning point. RTE, I know, are upping their game, it's part of their five year plan to have more women's sport – and as our national broadcaster they have a huge responsibility. Having the boxing live last week was brilliant, for example, full coverage on TV. More women being the anchors on sports programmes, too. So, definite progress, but a long way to go.
But it’s not just about the media, there’s an onus on women to support women’s sport. I’d be interested in seeing the attendance at the women’s Gaelic football final this year, for example, wondering if we’ll see an increase. I think the attendances are low because we don’t get the coverage, but there are so many women who go to watch the men’s games – why don’t they support the women’s game? It’s a fact that more men go to women’s games than women! So that’s a source of frustration, that needs to change. And there’s an onus too on the sports bodies to promote themselves better.
How big an issue is that?
It can be very frustrating too. I try to include everything on the website, but I miss some stories – for example, recently an Irish sportswoman did really well abroad, but I got nothing from her organisation, and I’d even asked them for it but they sent me nothing to put up. I was mad I missed it. That’s when I get a bit cross. They have to help themselves too. Social media is huge now, some counties you never hear from but others are great, they’re on Twitter all the time and they’re sending you stuff – again, they’re only as good as the volunteer behind them.
What are your hopes for the website?
I’d love enthusiasts from around the country to write for it, people who know what’s happening in their sports. I put up press releases from organisations and do the odd story myself, but I’d love more people to get involved. I have one woman from Down and she sends me everything on golf, she’s absolutely brilliant, she has her finger on the pulse, I need more people like that. I’m not paying people but if I could generate revenue then I might be able. I don’t know if I’ll ever make any real money out of it, or how long I can do this, but it’s definitely still filling a gap.