THE Evening Echo Ladies Sport Star of the Year Awards annually celebrates all that is great about women’s sport in Cork.
Although the event at the Ambassador Hotel concentrates largely on the 12 months which have just passed, the 2019 awards also had an intriguing and engaging discussion with a view to the future.
In a debate titled ‘The future of women’s sport in Ireland’, which was chaired by MC for the day and Evening Echo sports editor John McHale, a number of distinguished and well-known female faces in Irish sports made some well-articulated and excellent points.
Those were four-time Cork All-Ireland senior camogie championship winner Anna Geary, RTÉ sports presenter Jacqui Hurley and author and sports writer Mary White.
They tackled a number of issues concerning women’s sport in Ireland, including areas such as female participation and viewing/attending of women’s sporting events.
Hurley really showcased her enthusiasm for women’s sport and outlined how the sporting achievements of our female athletes can sometimes get overshadowed.
The 20x20 campaign, an all-inclusive movement to shift Ireland’s cultural perception of women’s sport by 2020, was something which was central to her point.
“I grew up in Cork with a paper (the Evening Echo) that I knew cared strongly about women’s sport. But a lot of my peers didn’t have that.
“It is all about sports editors making those decisions and it shouldn’t be based on numbers. It should be based on a responsibility that this is happening.
“I work on a newsdesk where we are doing a story on the Irish men’s soccer team every single day. Even when they have a rest day, we are telling people the players are having a rest day today. With respect, the boys are in bed having a lie-down, that is not news.
“Then you have the Irish women’s team who have come through this period of just enormous change and stood up to say ‘We are not taking this anymore’.
“They got a new manager in Colin Bell, who really has a strong vision for the future. I’m telling you, they are going to qualify for the Euros or the next World Cup.
“This is an Irish women’s team that are going somewhere and I thought they deserved a huge amount more coverage than what they got.”
Geary, who is also currently working on eir Sport’s GAA coverage, also made a compelling argument that the coverage of women’s sport on a national scale needs to focus on the positives and progress which has been made: “It is very easy to focus on the negative all the time and focus on how there is a lack in numbers. But that becomes quite boring. We are tired of hearing the negative stories, of what’s gone wrong.
“Let’s focus on what is going right, rather than compare it to last year. If we are always talking about women’s sport in a negative light, well then that becomes boring.
“When I started off playing with Cork camogie in 2003, we had a hell of a lot less than when I retired in 2015.”
White discussed how there are great stories behind our women’s sporting athletes which deserve to be told and that are engaging and would continue to engage the public.
“In the last year we have had the documentary on Cora Staunton, we had the documentary on Katie Taylor. There is so much more stories out there.
“I can’t wait to read a book about the Irish women’s hockey team, who is going to tell their story.
“Getting buy-in from the media is huge. The 20x20 campaign is great, but we can’t rest on our laurels.”