Sharon Hutchinson (Sportswomen.ie) Niamh Briggs (Irish Rugby Women’s Team Captain) Annette Newman (Irish National Billiards Champion & Number 1 on both Snooker & Billiards Rankings) Louise Quinn (Irish Soccer International) and Ellen Keane (Paralympic Medalist from Rio)
The RILSA Chairman Dan Carroll and Annette Newman the RILSA National Treasurer and current number 1 in both Snooker and Billiards here in Ireland attended the Teaming Up for Women’s Sports Conference at Griffith College recently. It was fantastic to meet and be part of Ireland’s great sporting women and that includes us at RILSA as we make astounding progress in promoting and developing women’s cue sports here in Ireland.
Annette Newman who is one of our most successful snooker & billiard players in Ireland was not out of place with the attending sporting greats of Soccer, Swimning and Rugby, many other sporting organisations were in attendance and the word collaborating was used on a number of occasions with the emphasis on sponsorship and by coming together collectively as one entity in support of women’s sport that great things will happen in the future.
We in RILSA are very open to the idea that sitting down with other women’s sporting organisations and groups will only strengthen women’s sport for the future.
The event was hailed a great success by the organisers as the content and professional delivery was most evident. The Minister for Sport Patrick O’Donovan gave a very good rendition on behalf of women and their place in sport here in Ireland and the 100 plus of us in attendance were delighted with the very positive atmosphere and getting things done attitude was very much to the forefront of the conference.
Below is a report on the day by Rob Hartnett the CEO of Sport for Business
Teaming Up for Women in Sport
Teaming Up for Women in Sport brought together a gathering of experts, players, sponsors, sporting administrators and people with a genuine interest in advancing the cause of women within sport at every level.
There was a real sense that this could be an important staging point on the way to a better future. We paid tribute to the improvements that had taken place in recent years but things need to get a lot better and that needs to happen at a quicker pace.
We believe that it will but it won’t happen by accident and it won’t happen without real effort and real, measurable action.
That is what we undertake to drive arising from the many valuable contributions from discussions on engagement, the players perspective, the sponsors view and from Government.
Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan is genuine and consistent in his stated aim to improve the landscape for Women in Sport. He reiterated yesterday that Government funding for the Women’s Gaelic players Association announced earlier this year was a start and that he saw a day when the funding for a male and female inter county player would be on a level basis.
He also referenced meetings he had held with his UK counterpart Tracey Crouch on areas of sports policy and funding. One key element in relation to women’s position in sport at a senior level is that the UK has now decided that greater diversity on governing boards needs to be forced through the threat of reduced funding for those who don’t show willing.
We do not believe in quotas. Every appointment should be on merit but when every appointment is from a single gender, one way or another then there must be a large question mark over whether that ability to show merit is genuinely there.
We have long been an advocate of greater diversity. Many in Irish sport do come up to scratch but previous attempts to publish a ‘scorecard’ have always been stifled by one reason or another. Some are genuinely held by people who have only the best interest of sport at heart but they do not stand up to scrutiny that should be applied.
Diversity is accepted and valued in politics, in business, in education and across society. With the exception of the Church it is hard to point to an important element of society that is less diverse in terms of leadership and that is a problem.
It will not be fixed overnight and time needs to be taken to make sure that merit is the only basis of leadership potential but we have to start.
Niamh Briggs is similarly not a believer in quota’s for their own sake. “I would love to see Fiona Coghlan and Lynn Cantwell get involved in coaching, but only if they are good enough.”
“Similarly the fast tracking of officials because they are women is not fair to players, nor to the officials themselves.”
We have to provide the right environment for people can grow to becoming leaders but we do have to act to make sure that opening is both visible and accessible to all. We have to make sure it is done right.
Family and community were credited as key influencers in the path into sport enjoyed by Briggs, Paralympian Ellen Keane and Irish Soccer international Louise Quinn who made up our Player Representative panel.
“I was brought to learn to swim because it was a life skill regardless of how many arms I had,” said Keane.
“When I showed some promise my Dad dragged me to a disability talent identification event in Ulster, very much over my protests at the time, but it worked out OK.”
A Paralympic medal, a self confidence and positive attitude and a personality that is among the most engaging in Irish sport are testament to that.
Louise Quinn spoke of the note home from a teacher to her parents saying that she was a very good footballer and they should encourage her to stick with it.
It was one of perhaps 200 the teacher might have written that day but it resonated then and still does today as an important step on the way to becoming Republic of Ireland International Player of the Year and a career in Ireland, Sweden and who knows where next.
This Girl Can
A year ago, at a similar event to yesterday’s in Dublin Castle, the Minister for Equality at the time paid tribute to the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign that had been implemented across Britain and expressed his support for something similar here.
Minister O’Donovan echoed his admiration for the principles behind the campaign and it is something we will look closely at learning from here arising from yesterday.
The campaign cost around £8 million,” said Sally Hancock, Chair of Women in Sport in the UK who joined us yesterday and delivered an inspiring discussion with Sally Horrox on how things can be made better.
“It delivered though on getting 2 million more girls and women active across the UK so in those terms was a success.”
“You have to know what it is that you are looking to ‘fix’ and this is a multi faceted area but there is real progress being made and a lot of learning that we can help make available to inform how Ireland can become a real leader in equality as it has in other areas,” she said.
That’s a critical part of what was covered yesterday, that we don’t only talk but that we take action and Sport for Business will be doing just that in the coming weeks and months.
Part of yesterday’s engagement was the collection of hundred’s of individual ideas, from those in the room and online about what we can do right now.
A strong proportion of those ideas focused on schools and the next generation. Minister O’Donovan counselled against ‘dumping it all on primary schools’ but the move towards including sport as an examinable subject in secondary schools will be a positive influence at that level too.
Some of what we will do from now over the next year needs to be directed to closing the gap between boys and girls at secondary and third level education.
It may be that there is too much emphasis on sport as an elite undertaking as opposed to an activity and we will explore that.
The motivations and reasons to play are not universal and sport has traditionally had its structures established and drawn up by men. That’s just the way it has been but we need to see if that provides an unintended barrier to girls getting or staying involved in sport. It’s not a natural barrier.
“Fit4Life was a gender neutral programme introduced across athletics clubs,” said Eoin Conroy of Titan Experience who was on our Agency Panel alongside Kelli O’Keefe from PSG Sponsorship and Sarah O’Connor from WHPR.
“It was taken up most though by women who were more willing to encourage friends and apply peer engagement to get moving.” There are lessons to be learned there.
What we need to do needs to come from a broad perspective but be focused with later precision on action rather than reports.
“Don’t pick ten ideas from the list and try to make them all work, pick three and make them happen better,” said Sally Horrox who has advised the FA, the BBC and many others on campaigns that are measurable and effective.
“It may be that much of the important work is needed to ‘re-engineer the plumbing’ of organised sport so that things are more easily accessed, and importantly, enjoyed, by everyone, not just those who have been suited by the way things are in the past.”
There are echoes are suffrage in this debate. 100 years ago women couldn’t vote. many believed they didn’t want to, many men believed they didn’t need to. History teaches us that sometimes change needs to happen against the prevailing mood that it’s not needed at all.
There is a role for family, for individuals, for sporting bodies themselves, for Government and for business.
We heard yesterday from Jennifer Gleeson of Lidl and Deirdre Ashe of Liberty Insurance on why and how they were able to match their values with those of sport and build real partnerships with Ladies Football and Camogie.
Both expressed a willingness to work with us, alongside others, using resource and experience at first with the potential of investment further down the line if needed to get great actions underway in this critical area.
We will take them up on that in the coming weeks as we build a tight team to make some good calls on what happens next and a wider consensus of support for how that might be implemented over the next twelve months.
Let’s gather again in a year to celebrate some concrete improvement. We will have enjoyed the hosting in Ireland by then of the Women’s Rugby World Cup and the Women’s U18 European Championships. We will have enjoyed another season of hopefully record breaking attendance at Championship matches across Camogie and ladies Football.
We will have seen more and more marquee sporting teams devoting energy to women as much as men in terms of sporting access and we will have hopefully seen more leadership positions open up to the right people, some of whom at least will be women.
What else? That’s what we need to dedicate ourselves to from today.
Thanks to all who took part yesterday from near and far. Thanks for the support from a large number that made it possible and vital.
Thanks in advance to all those who will be called on in the coming months to make that sense of the possible become the reality of success.