Can We or Can’t We – The 20X20 Debate

The 20X20 Campaign celebrated it’s first birthday yesterday with a debate hosted at Facebook exploring what we can or can’t expect for Women in Sport over the coming years.

Olympic Federation of Ireland President Sarah Keane was joined by Federation of Irish Sport CEO Mary O’Connor, former head of Sport at RTÉ Ryle Nugent and sparky journalist Ewan McKenna with Sinéad O’Carroll from The Journal keeping control from the chair.

Keane and Nugent struck the positive side that there was the potential for greater equality with Men’s sport over the next decade. O’Connor, describing herself as a positive realist, found herself closer to McKenna, who admitted to being just a plain realist, in feeling it was not likely to reach that far.

The positions were far from entrenched though as the conversation flowed.

McKenna was more restrained than he often appears online and on social media with his most controversial contribution only suggesting that if ‘faster, stronger, higher was the way that sport was advancing that the physiological difference between the genders meant that equality was never going to happen. He did admit though that Women could attain the same level of skill.

O’Connor turned the focus from equality to equity making the point that there was a historical inequity in the investment that has gone into the development of men’s and Women’s sport and that we were unlikely to get to a point of equality until that was addressed.

The advance of media interest in and coverage of Women’s sport, including this summer’s coverage of every game in the FIFA Women’s World Cup and last weekend’s Olympic Qualifier matches for the Irish Women’s Hockey team are significant steps in showing the way but McKenna was right in pointing out that it will ultimately be the public that decides.

He said that they cannot be made to like a sport just because it was played by women though the flip side is that by showing games with the level of excitement that the penalty shoot-out at Energia Park delivered, it would be hard not to like it and to want more.

Sarah Keane summed up best at the end of the debate by saying “Can we make people care about Women’s sport? Yes, we can. Do we have to be realistic about it? Yes, we do.

Then it all depends on where your level of realism goes to. Our belief is that if you think something is impossible to achieve they you actually contribute to making it so. We should look at sport and the opportunity to play and be involved in the same way as we do towards education. If that requires radical thinking in terms of equal investment, even if equal revenue is a long way away, then we should go there and see what the real barriers are. If it makes our society a better place then maybe more balance is needed in sport at the highest of levels. Maybe Ireland can lead the way.

Sport Ireland is investing €3 million in Women specific programmes across a wide range of sports over the next two years.

At next week’s Sport for Business Women in Sport Conference at the studios of RTÉ we will chat to Nora Stapleton who is leading that initiative as well as to leaders in their field including Sarah Keane, Sinéad Heraty from the Irish Ladies Golf Union, activist and journalist Joanne O’Riordan, World Champion Kelly Harrington, Olympian Jessie Barr, RTÉ Deputy Head of Sport Cliona O’Leary and a really strong audience drawn from sport and business.

We will have knowledge bursts on the Liberty Insurance Camogie All-Stars, Lidl’s continued investment in Ladies Football, audience insights on attitudes towards Women in Sport form RTÉ, Swim Ireland’s #WePlay Conference and on equality at the IOC.

All the places are now sold out but there is a waitlist in operation in case anybody cannot make it on the day.

Here is a selection of the social media commentary and reaction from yesterday’s 20X20 debate which was held in partnership with our friends at AIG.


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