This Boy Can…

In a new Wednesday Column, Rob Hartnett dives a little deeper into issues surrounding Women in Sport.  We shouldn’t need a column like this but until such time as reality matches rhetoric, let’s throw a few pebbles and see what ripples emerge…

Thank you for reading last week’s first column on the upshot of comments on women’s suitability for leadership positions.  It provoked quite a response. Read more here.

The National Indoor Arena is a fabulous addition to the sporting infrastructure of the country.  It will benefit mane and women, boys and girls for long into the future.

It’s opening last week was a celebration of one of the wins for Irish sport that will deliver for sport.

It was also though an opportune reminder of the challenges faced by encouraging women to see sport as being as much for them as it is for men.


We were told during the week that by the time they get to fourth year in secondary school girls are 42% behind boys in terms of overall fitness.

That matters, it really does.  It cuts off sport and physical activity as an integral part of everyday life just at a time when lifetime habits should be forming.

There are many ways this can be challenged and a gathering next week of smart minds from the Sport for Business community will look to see how some of those can be brought to life. There will be a mix of us from men and women.  That’;s how it should be, not for reasons of positive discrimination as such but because they are the best people to look at this, among a much wider cohort of many more and we want to achieve balance.

The photograph to the right was picked up on by commentators as indicative of the imbalance in leadership that undoubtedly exists in sport.  It was a mistake to not look around the larger group and draw some of the many talented women that were there into the image.

People like Dr Una May, the Head of Participation at Sport Ireland; like Sport Ireland Board Member Caroline Murphy; like President of Athletics Ireland Georgina Drumm; like many more.  None of the men pictured have done anything wrong.  Their commitment to sport is unquestioned but that’s sometimes not enough.


Images are important.  They can tell a story and create a perception of what went on or the dynamic of an event that is at odds with reality.  But then again in today’s world is not perception just as worthy of consideration as reality.

There are many reasons for why girls sport lags behind, many of them articulated well by Kate Kirby from the Institute of Sport on Today FM this week.

Social groupings, competitive nature, body awareness and many more that need to be considered but one more is role models and that has to extend beyond the pitch.

What message does an image like last week send out to a student preparing to complete their CAO and wondering whether a career in the business of sport is worth pursuing at one of the many great course being offered at third level?

How can they see themselves fit into that picture in ten, twenty or more years time?

The simple truth is with difficulty.  It’s subtle.  Many don’t see it as a problem because it was just a picture and aren’t women involved in so many levels of sport.

Of course they are but we need to step up the recognition of their presence and talent at the top end of sport, at the level where they are called upon as experts, as leaders, as role models for smart young people regardless of gender, colour or creed.

Called out

We were involved in a major event last year which attracted a global audience of speakers in areas of sport and technology but which was short in advance of women speakers.  We were called out on it and rightly so.  We could not control the full line up but we could and should have pressed harder on those who said no, and looked harder for those who would have been equal to some of those who did appear on stage.

We have previously done so, almost physically dragging one very good and confident speaker to overcome her trepidation and step forward to share her experience.  She was brilliant in the end as we knew she would be.

That has to happen more.  We need to look harder and women need to find their voice and put themselves forward to speak.

We are keeping a record of men and women speakers and participants in our events through 2017 and will endeavour to hit a minimum 30% gender balance, aiming towards more.

We are at that level already for the Irish Sponsorship Summit in two weeks time.

We have had 14 out of 28 speakers, men and women, across our last three main events.

We are currently planning more larger scale events for this year in relation to sponsorship in minority sports, the power of content for sports marketers, the Sport for Business community in Norther Ireland, Club life across the sporting spectrum and in the area of leadership.

We will be seeking to correct the gender imbalance not by diluting the power and reach of those we invite to share their expertise, but just by looking a little harder to make it right.

I cannot promise we will get everything right but we will be trying.

Liberty Insurance, Lidl, AIB, RTÉ and many other strong supporters of Women’s Sport are among more than 180 members of the Sport for Business community.  If you would like the inside track on building a relationship with sport that is fair and equal, contact us today and let’s see what we might do together…

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