This Boy Can – Difference is OK

There was a picture taken by Donall Farmer of Inpho at the National Elite Boxing Championships in the National Stadium last Friday night which caught the eye as it captured a moment in between victory and defeat.

It shows Kelly Harrington consoling Shauna O’Keefe after beating her in the lightweight division.

O’Keefe was previously up against Katie Taylor in this division and while an underdog against Harrington, who was stepping down in weight, she was still devastated to find one stronger again.

The thing about the image though was the empathy that Harrington had for her opponent. It could have been the same in any of the men’s bouts but it wasn’t and it raised the question about the differences, sometimes subtle, sometimes significant, between men and women in sport.

The argument against Women’s sport as a spectacle was once, and at times still is, that it has neither the strength, speed or interest of watching men do the same or similar sport.

Patently true at times in the first two, and patently not in the latter but why do we always judge women’s sport against the measurement of what men do?

Well actually we don’t. At the Olympic Games men’s and women’s events are intertwined on the schedule and draw the same crowd to watch in the stadia.

On television it is often the narrative of the contest that determines the interest of the broader population. Without doubt Usain Bolt drew greater interest for the men’s over the women’s 100 metres but Jessica Ennis-Hill’s attempt on back to back Heptathlon titles was a much bigger story that the men’s Decathlon in Rio.

It wasn’t faster but it had different elements to engage our interest and it is that point of difference that is often overlooked in the rush to compare.

Sport for Business will launch our list of the 50 most influential women in Irish Sport for 2017 on International Women’s Day, March 8th. Time to start thinking who do you think should be part of this year’s list?  Take a look at those who were to the fore in 2016.

Kelly Harrington’s punches may not have had the same force as Darren O’Neill winning his seventh title and fighting at a 20KG heavier weight but it was in the richness of diversity across the men’s and women’s sports that the value of Friday night was enhanced.

I spoke to the IABA’s Ger McTavish at the launch of the Dublin City Council Sport and Wellbeing Partnership Strategy this week and she told me about the success she had earlier this month with a coaching the coaches session exclusively for young women.

Katie taylor may have gone to the professional game but she has left behind a legacy of equality of interest and opportunity in the women’s boxing ranks and how much of that can be put down to competition taking place alongside the men’s.

It is happening elsewhere. The Ireland senior Women’s Rugby team played Scotland at the same venue on the same night three weeks ago as the U20 Men’s team and the crowd in Glasgow was treated to two close and tense games.

Logistics are often a challenge but rarely one that cannot be overcome.

This year’s AIB All Ireland Club Championships have been the story of Slaughtniel, a small town club from Derry. Their footballers shocked St Vincent’s to make it to one final, their hurlers face another Dublin side in Cuala this weekend in their semi final and their Camogie team are playing in the Final on March 5th.

Wouldn’t it have been some day if those three finals were combined on St Patrick’s Day and the Intermediate and Junior Finals similarly combined across one or even two other Sundays so that the club faithful could see the men’s and women’s games side by side.

They would see that they are different but difference is a good thing. It’s not that one is better but why should the comparison be made.

We don’t need to package women’s sport away on separate days and then bemoan the smaller crowds. We need to normalise the big days as having equal value regardless of gender.

It works for the biggest sporting carnival in the world at the Olympic Games. It works in that most gladiatorial of sports in boxing. It works with the FAI Cup Finals which are played on the same day at the Aviva Stadium for men’s and women’s and breathes extra life into both.

It just works and we should not be afraid to take that step.

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