The FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in France tonight. It has the potential to be a defining tournament in the normalisation of Women in Sport.
It will not become so in isolation but rather as a global touchpoint for a great many other advances that have taken place in terms of recognition that 50 per cent of the world’s population has a right to be taken seriously when it comes to participation at every level of sport from the humblest fitness class to the biggest stage of elite sport.
Campaigns such as Like a Girl, launched by Always as a commercial but gaining traction with its powerful message of fairness in language and treatment.
Campaigns such as This Girl Can, a well funded public campaign in the UK that treated us to real-life images and stories of real-life people getting up and getting active.
Campaigns like our own 20X20 in Ireland created and championed by Sport for Business members Along Came a Spider and the Federation of Irish Sport, and backed by fellow members AIG, Lidl, 3, RTÉ, TG4 and Off The Ball.
Campaigns like those begun as far back as 2013 with Liberty insurance and the Camogie Association, amplified again by Lidl and Ladies Gaelic Football and brought to life by women, girls, men and boys who refused to accept that sport was not among the most democratic and equalising force we have as a society.
But all of these campaigns have spoken to a largely already convinced audience. Those of us who get it know the power of making sport open to ourselves or our daughters as much as our sons, our sisters as much as our brothers.
Yet a cursory glance at social media or the comments sections of mainstream media sites will know that change does not happen overnight.
It does come though. There is a tipping point in any movement where it crosses over from something aspirational to something real. We passed it here, after a spell with the liberalisation of laws on divorce, abortion, marriage equality and more. It is barely more than 100 years since Women were given, or took, the right to vote. It is only 50 years since women working in public service could hold onto their jobs once they were married or wanted to start a family. We are living through history and we believe that this next four weeks of top-class sport on the football fields of France can be such a tipping point in sport.
If the Republic of Ireland team were there we would feel that in a visceral sense. Our Italia ’90 moment with the Women’s team might be delayed another two or four years but it too will come.
But to their absolute credit, RTÉ has given us the opportunity to share in what could be the global sports highlight of the year. An unprecedented full partnership with TG4 means we can get to see every minute of every game live and free to air.
Now it’s down to us. If you’ve read this far you are likely a fellow traveller on this road. But you have to be a champion of it among your friends, your family, your colleagues, on social media, walking down the street if needs be.
Young boys will need little persuasion to sit in front of the telly and watch football. If they are young enough not to notice or care if they are boys or girls on the pitch then they are the future. If they are old enough to notice then they will probably be doubly keen. If their sisters walk a little taller in their eyes because they too could be that star for Ireland, then better yet again.
We need to be active in supporting the tournament. We need to be vocal in terms of championing it.
For now, as well, we need to overcome centuries of ambivalence at best, genuine ill will at its strongest and cheer for England.
The further they go in this tournament, the more we will be exposed to it. Last year’s Men’s World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia attracted a larger TV audience than either the All Ireland Hurling or Football Finals.
How big will the audience be for the Women’s game? That’s down to us. The USA and France are the favourites, Germany and England, or the Lionesses as we may get to hear quite regularly have a strong chance and there will be surprises and new stars born along the way, just like at Russia 2018 or Brazil 2014 in the men’s game.
Get involved in a predictor competition. The FIFA one is supported by Sport for Business member Hyundai. It’s free to enter. Closer to home Shelbourne FC are running one with a €10 entry fee and a €500 prize fund. Get involved in whatever way you want but please do get involved.
Every day of the tournament Sport for Business will carry content on how the tournament is being activated by sponsors, engaged with by fans or accepted by the worldwide audience.
The Hashtags being used are #FIFAWWC and #DareToShine
Over to you now Women of the World Cup. Make us believe, make us cheer, dare to shine.