Better coverage of women's sport leads to more girls playing and staying involved

Jo-Anne Williamson on the rise of female superstars like Rachael Blackmore and Sanita Puspure
Better coverage of women's sport leads to more girls playing and staying involved

Fr Mathew's star Grainne Dwyer under pressure from Maree's Claire Rockall, Fiona Scully and Dayna Finn during the Women's Super League game last season. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

'THIS is a man’s world...' 

I dare any one to speak those words in the current climate and be able to stand by their convictions. A bright light is now shining on women in sport and with the recent success of Rachael Blackmore at Cheltenham, equality is becoming more prevalent.

Why is there still such a huge divide? Is it that we are simply not good enough to compete with men? I’d like to see someone say that to the Tipperary jockey, who cleared six winners as the leading jockey in the festival. 

Her name will now be synonymous with excellence. Is this because she had such incredible wins across the board or because as a woman, it was unexpected in a male-dominated environment? 

In a sport where gender isn’t an issue, jockeys rarely see themselves as anything other than a jockey!

 Rachael Blackmore on Hammersmith jumping the last in the Follow Us On Instagram @Corkracecourse Hurdle at the Cork Racecourse, Mallow. Picture: Dan Linehan
Rachael Blackmore on Hammersmith jumping the last in the Follow Us On Instagram @Corkracecourse Hurdle at the Cork Racecourse, Mallow. Picture: Dan Linehan

I’ve said I’m not a feminist several times to the women who I’ve spoken to in their chosen sport. I may have to eat my words! 

The belief in economic equality, well I’m all for that. The 20x20 campaign was aimed at creating a cultural shift in the perception of women in sport. 

The target was to raise the percentage of coverage, attendance and participation by 20% across each of these fields, and 20x20 gained huge support. With ambassadors from four different sports, it really got its teeth into highlighting that there was and still is a necessity to remove the barriers that separate the genders.

It's clear that 'women in sport' is an unbelievably current and powerful movement but recognition should be earned on a level playing field. It’s rare to hear anyone say that a man has done well because he’s a man so why is there still such emphasis on congratulating women for achieving exactly what their male counterparts have done. 

For all the ground that has been broken in acknowledging that sport should be equal for all, there is still a way to go.

In Cork, tennis coaching has a ratio of two men to every woman. This appears to be the case in many other sports. 

A part of the 20x20 campaign is largely aimed at increasing the roles of women as leaders and coaches.

One female basketball referee told me of her encounters with the 7' male players in comparison to her 5’ 5" slight build and it was crystal clear that height and gender played no part on the court for her or the men who were playing! Having refereed at the highest level of Super League she’s a referee first and a woman second. 

In the1970s Billy Jean King fought for equality in tennis, she’s still championing it to this day!

Listening to these passionate women speaking about sport succeeded in opening my eyes to how successful women's sport is yet still so under-exposed. Is the investment from the governing bodies a token gesture? Lip service to keep the peace? 

Absolutely not!

I was blown away to hear that Rowing Ireland is set to send an equal number of male and female representatives to the Olympics in Tokyo. The Lee club in Cork has an abundance of women training alongside their male counterparts; they seem to have boatloads of equality!

Cork-based rower Sanita Puspure. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Cork-based rower Sanita Puspure. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

The common theme that reared its head was that men’s sports seem to have the spotlight regardless of success. Their treatment, financing and media coverage leave women in the dark. 

This can’t continue especially with 20x20, 'show your stripes' action asking for inclusiveness which has gained large amounts of support.

The more attention that women in sport are given the more chance we have of keeping young girls active too. Strong bonds of friendship are nurtured from sport and with significant funding coming from the NGBs and LSPs this is a hugely worthwhile venture. 

If we back women in sport across many platforms perhaps the views will change and we can enjoy sport regardless of the gender playing.

Having been ignored for so long, it’s time to move on from the past and get behind the 20x20 campaign. Let’s help create a shift in our culture and people's perception and increase the visibility of women in sport.

With current role models like Ballincollig's Sanita Puspure, reigning world champion rower, along with the stunning achievements recently by Blackmore, it proves women in sport are flying high!

King of Soul James Brown could be right to an extent, it may well be a man's world, but it ain't nothing without a woman or a girl!

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