International Women’s Day at RTÉ

In life, in sport, in business, there are some days that stand out and yesterday was one of those for us.

RTÉ and Sport for Business came together to host a special conversation in the Primetime Studio and before an invited audience to mark International Women’s Day.

Rob Hartnett of Sport for Business was joined by Sarah Keane, President of the Olympic Council of Ireland and CEO of Swim Ireland, Noelle Healy, All Ireland Winner and Ladies Footballer of the Year, Joan O’Flynn, CEO of the Camogie Association and Ryle Nugent, Head of Sport at RTÉ to do as much as we could in an hour to dive into some of the issues facing Women in Sport and to come up with a number of practical solutions.

One hour to cover more than 100 years of organised sport being driven by and for one half of the population is scant time but it is a reflection of the amount of work that is going in and the amount of progress that has been made.

Noelle Healy spoke of not realising the importance and the size of the 46,286 crowd at Croke Park for the All Ireland Final until well after the game had been won.

“We had heard they were opening the upper Cusack but you know our minds were on the game.  That we won meant to do so in front of a record crowd was great but if we had lost, given our experience over the past three years, it would have meant nothing.”

She also pointed out that while having the destination feel of the final was great it sometimes just pointed out the fact that a Semi Final might have been played in front of only a few hundred people and so we should see it as a chance to engage more people but not just one day a year.

Joan O’Flynn echoed the point, highlighting that while the All Ireland Camogie Final attendance was also up 25 percent from 2015 to 2017 it was at semi finals, quarter finals and in League campaigns that the hardest yards were to be gained.

Sarah Keane revealed that she was one of only two Women heading national Olympic organisations, out of more than 200 around the world which led into a heated debate around quotas as a forcing tactic to effect real change.

“Having one woman among a large group of men is something but it is when the number grows and the effect on the way of thinking that comes from having a more diverse set of minds, regardless of their gender, that real change can be seen in its most positive fashion,” said Keane.

“It is evident in business, and wherever it has taken hold.”

Nugent said that the conversation about gender balance in RTÉ’s Sports Department and other parts of the state broadcaster had “not been on the table for the best part of a decade.”

“We have a strong mix but it is based on ability rather than gender,” he said holding out Joanne Cantwell’s appointment to host the Sunday game Live from next year as a prime example of being the best presenter for the job.

He questioned whether a gender quota was the best way forward and while that was countered by Keane, O’Flynn and Hartnett, there was an even split in the audience via a show of hands.

Blues Sisters

We spoke about Blues Sisters, the documentary produced by RTÉ which has had a significant impact on the perception of Women’s sport, particularly among young teenagers who now want to be a Blues Sister.

“We didn’t like the title at first, we thought it made us seem like a bunch of nuns,” said Healy but it has had a real impact and it is something which we will all look back on with a sense that it has been really positive.

She spoke of the importance of ‘seeing it to being it’ in relation to bringing young girls to games and inspiring them to be the player they see.

“When I was their age my heroes were players like Alan Brogan but I couldn’t be him so it was a tougher bridge to cross when we were younger.”

The importance of role models has also had an impact on her professional life as an anaesthetist.

“I knew from early that I wanted to be either an anaesthetist or a surgeon but when I looked at the consultants in surgery I saw 90 or 95 percent were men so I thought that maybe there was something in that side that was not so appealing or rewarding for women.”

“I love the path I’ve taken but I do remember the reason why I chose it and understand the impact that our environment has.”


That was a theme powerfully expressed by all the panellists that this was a cultural issue and that changed behaviours were needed across a broader remit than pure sport in order to make that change lasting.

“That was where the change came from within RTÉ,” said Nugent. “It wasn’t one Department or one layer of management, it was a sense that this was something important across all the sectors.”

“We talk a lot about these issues which is a good thing,” concluded Keane, “but we need to move towards more action as well.”

An important step in that direction may come into clearer focus as early as next week when Keane will be to the fore in a new initiative which we cannot reveal at the moment but will be covering in full and supporting with vigour at the right time.


Yesterday’s session was introduced by and attended in full by RTÉ Director General Dee Forbes. The level of support for doing the right thing and doing what we do better was evident throughout. One hour will not change the world but it is in the moments where we take to time to think, to formulate ideas and then act on them that real poiisitve advances can be made.

Yesterday was a step in the right direction. Thank you to all of those who played their part.


This was a great way to celebrate #iwd2018 @rte

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Image Credit: RTÉ

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