In this weekly column on Women in Sport, 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…
The road to a better future for Women in sport is clearly signposted. It’s less about column inches, minutes of coverage or sponsorship euros and more about normal.
Making it normal to imagine sport being for men and women, boys and girls.
Sometimes they will compete against each other as in horse racing, sometimes on the same track and in the same kit as in the Olympics, sometimes in different sports altogether.
There is no single moment of transformation. Equality has to be worked hard for but when it comes it is just there when you look over your shoulder.
There are points along the way though where what happens next is a direct result of somebody choosing to give those with less opportunity the chance to shine.
The idea of positive discrimination in terms of promoting Women to leadership roles has been spoken of here before. We believe it is essential not because it is right but because it fixes what is clearly a wrong in terms of the way things are and the way they have been for a fierce long time.
I went to see Hidden Figures during the week. It’s a story of how three black women overcame the prejudices of the 1960’s to get the US closer to manned space travel.
It was a powerful film on a number of levels. That such casual discrimination was accepted only 50 years ago must seem strange to those who now enjoy greater freedom to be what they want to be regardless of colour or gender.
Those prejudices have not gone away completely but access to education, transport, work and even toilets is now broadly available. Times change because people want them to.
Mary Brown was one of the real life protagonists in the movie and won her right to attend the classes that would allow her be an engineer by persuading a judge that there always had to be someone that was first.
Once that has happened others can and will follow. Sometimes though its not as simple as Hollywood might paint it.
Leaders don’t generally emerge from nowhere and in order to produce a next generation of women that will look as comfortable as CEO’s of sporting bodies as they do of Telco’s, Food giants or as Prime Ministers of countries they need to pick up skills along the way.
At the moment we have some great managers of Women’s sports teams. Colin Bell is unbeaten as manager of the Women’s National Soccer team, Tom Tierney has led Ireland to three wins in the Six Nations in the year in which we will host the Women’s World Cup and Ephie Fitzgerald has picked up where Eamon Ryan left off as manager of the most successful team in recent Gaelic Games history, regardless of gender, the Cork Ladies Football team.
All have been given their jobs on merit as it should be and Colin Bell is succeeding Sue Ronan who led the soccer team and is now in overall charge of Ladies Football so it is not as if Women can’t manage but how active are we in encouraging them to step forward as coaches and leaders of the future?
EU Research tells us that only 17% of coaches with a qualification are women. That is low so what is holding women back?
The majority of Women’s teams across most sports are managed by men. The majority of coaches all the way through from under age teams are also men. Most sports have a practice where young girls teams have to have a woman at each training session, a practice that has become known as having a ‘mum on duty.’
It’s right from a child protection point of view but how often do we then pigeon hole the ‘mum on duty’ as being there for ‘just in case’ as opposed to leading sessions?
We cannot place ourselves in the shoes of a nine or ten or twelve year old but if their experience of sports coaches is of men, and their experience of women on the sports field is that of helping rather than leading, then how are they being encouraged to be whatever they want to be.
Does Rena Buckley see herself as coach of the Cork footballers in ten or twenty years time? Or Sophie Spence of the Women’s Rugby team at the 2032 Olympics?
It’s more normal now than ever before to see reports of games, to see Women playing sport and closing the fitness gap that still exists.
We need to make it more normal though to see women on the sidelines as coaches, as leaders and as managers in sport in the same way they are in business.
That’s not just going to happen,. It requires finding a way to encourage Women’s coach education as opposed to having one woman among 25 men who have put their hand up.
In time we won’t need to carve out a special place for Women’s sport because it will be sport, plain and simple, but to get the future we want we have to create that future from where we are today.