Kathriona Devereux: Women are smashing it as they close sports ‘gender play gap’

Irish women in various sporting fields, have captured Kathriona Devereux's attention
Kathriona Devereux: Women are smashing it as they close sports ‘gender play gap’

Sports women such as Leona Maguire, who helped Europe win golf’s Solheim Cup, are leading the way.

I ONCE arm-wrestled Rena Buckley. It was back in 2007 for a TV show looking at what ‘being fit’ means and the different athletic attributes needed to be top class, things like strength, endurance, flexibility, and quick reflexes.

The only thing I scored highly on was flexibility, yoga giving me the stretchy edge.

At the time, Rena was already a sporting star but I’d no idea I was taking on the woman who would become sporting royalty, going on to win 18 All-Ireland medals for football and camogie (‘King’ Henry Shefflin has ten fyi!).

Unfortunately, there are no All-Ireland camogie medals coming back Leeside this year, but the Cork team performed well in a pulsating spectacle on Sunday and the match was packed with skill, grit, determination, sweet scores, and maddening wides, and was nerve-wrecking till the final minutes.

The match was yet another example of how Irish female athletes have been knocking it out of the park all year.

Katie Taylor, Rachel Blackmore, Leona Maguire, Kellie Harrington, Ellen Keane, Katie-George Dunlevy, Eve McCrystal, Nicole Turner, Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh, and Emily Hegarty are all world class athletes who made headlines in recent months.

Ordinarily, I’m pretty cynical about the big machine of sport. Mega millions being paid to over-waxed men tapping a football around a pitch just doesn’t sit right with me. Or golf! Why are we so regularly subjected to news updates about the plaid- trousered escapades of a few lads good at hitting a small ball with a skinny stick?

Usually, when I hear sports radio reports about Shane Lowry dropping two points or Rory McIlroy bogeying the seventh, I throw my eyes to heaven, and Shirley Valentine-style ask the radio “Who cares?!”

And yes, I know golf membership has increased dramatically since the pandemic and playing golf has great health benefits because of all the walking (forego the buggy), but it is still, largely, the preserve of middle aged, middle class men.

Though I know little about boxing, horse racing or tandem cycling, I am drawn to watching these sports to witness the female competitors smashing it.

The latest successes of Irish women in various sporting fields, even golf, has captured my attention and I found myself actually turning up the radio to hear Leona Maguire being interviewed after her remarkable Solheim Cup win.

Women’s sport is stronger than ever, or maybe we’re just hearing more about it because of recent efforts to provide a more level playing field in terms of media coverage of women’s sports.

Launched in 2018, the 20x20 campaign aimed to see 20% more media coverage of women in sport, 20% more female participation at player, coach, referee and administrative level, and 20% more attendance at women’s games and events.

The campaign was looking for a cultural shift in our perception of girls and women in sport, to give girls the sporting role models they need. The hashtag ‘If she can’t see it, she can’t be it’ resonated and sports organisations, universities and media outlets all pledged to play their role in supporting the cause.

Results in the first year of the campaign were dramatic, a 17% rise in participation, 34% increase in attendance, 50% increase in online and print coverage. Since the launch, 80% of people are more aware of women in sport and 76% of people see women’s sport as cooler.

The campaign developed to become a champion of exercise with its ‘No Proving. Just Moving’ campaign to encourage women to find something they love doing, whether that be a run, yoga, a walk, a sea swim or dancing to create new physical activity habits for their long term health.

Despite these improvements, a survey last year found that only 23% of Irish people believe women’s sport gets sufficient media coverage. Interestingly, only 15% of female respondents say women’s sport gets the right amount of coverage compared to 32% of males.

However, 45% of men said that they had tuned in to watch a female sports event while only 29% of women said the same, which probably reflects the fact that more men are sports fans and will watch sport regardless of who is playing if the sport is entertaining enough.

The Olympics and Paralympics are the ultimate examples of providing positive sporting role models for everyone, but particularly children, and watching the achievements of female athletes must surely do something to close the ‘gender play gap’ and give girls plenty of positive role models.

To be honest, the Paralympic coverage completely blew my mind. Watching the Dutch female wheelchair basketball team win gold, knowing that I can barely run, dribble a ball and score a basket with all my limbs, makes them superhumans in my eyes.

That Ellen Keane can swim 100 metres in a time of 1.19.93 just 15 seconds slower than the world record is incredible to someone like me who swims like a geriatric turtle.

Celebrating, elevating and amplifying the achievements of all these women is something we can all help with now and into the future. Not just because they are women but because they are truly mnáwesome sportspeople.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more