Sport Ireland has published its second biannual survey of gender balance within sports administration, revealing that the average representation remains 71 per cent male and 29 per cent female.

This is the same ratio as was the case back in March and while progress has been made from the initial 2019 survey of a 76 / 24 per cent split, it appears to have stalled.

The figures have been bolstered as well by the addition of the Olympic Federation of Ireland, Paralympics Ireland and the federation of Irish Sport for the first time. These three bodies have 50 per cent, 56 per cent and 36 per cent female representation and all are led by women in the role of either CEO or President.

Without their addition, the balance would have slipped back over the course of 2020. This is despite 32 as opposed to 24 NGB’s having achieved the target of 30 per cent and there is a reduction from 20 to 13 of the bodies that have less than ten per cent diversity on the Board.

We have analysed a breakdown of where the diversity numbers lie. It is not simply a question of female representation but where a Board might have less than an ideal number of male representatives. This applies in three cases where the number of female representatives on the board is greater than 70 per cent.

The breakdown of this analysis shows that 4 organisations have achieved a full 50 per cent split. These are the Olympic Federation of Ireland, Fencing Ireland, Motor Cycling Ireland and Student Sport Ireland.

A further 13 are at the optimum level of at least 40 per cent representation for male and female.  These are Basketball Ireland, Golf Ireland, Gymnastics Ireland, Irish Sailing, Irish Wheelchair Sport, The Ladies Gaelic Football Association, Mountaineering Ireland, National Community Games, Onakai, Special Olympics Ireland, Swim Ireland, Table Tennis Ireland and Paralympics Ireland.

The greatest number of 30 organisations have between 20 and 39 per cent representation and we have to hope that they are on a path towards the higher number.

At the far end of the scale though are 20 organisations for whom 20 per cent gender balance has not yet been possible to achieve.

The GAA and the IRFU both sit in this category and while the 11 per cent number of the GAA should be seen in the context of the continued gender split in Gaelic Games, the IRFU number of 8 per cent remains stubbornly low, given that it is representative of all players.  The FAI is on 25 per cent.

It is hard to understand in 2020 how seven of the bodies, all of whom receive state funding, still have only a single gender on their board.  All of them are men.  The seven are the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, Motor Sport Ireland, Irish Snooker and Billiards, Irish Waterski and Wakeboard Federation, Bol Chumman na hEireann, American Football Ireland and the Horseshoe Pitchers Association of Ireland.



Chair of the Women’s Sport Committee at Sport Ireland Lynne Cantwell has focused on the positive aspects in her commentary on the figures.

“The overall representation of females on boards across the sector has remained consistent this year, however, there have been a number of notable developments,” she said.

“Most recently, the Olympic Federation of Ireland has achieved gender balance on its board following its recent AGM. Sport Ireland is also seeing strong uptake from females across the range of service offered to both board members and staff among funded organisations.”

“In particular, the Level 9 Certificate in Governance has been an excellent addition to the offering. The Women in Sport Steering group will continue to work with all stakeholders to support the increase in female representation at board level.”

Numerous NGBs delivered Women in Sport Leadership programmes for their members. Canoeing Ireland saw their ‘Bridge the Gap’ programme culminate recently with 35 female ambassadors taking part. Athletics Ireland, the IRFU and LGFA continue to roll out leadership programmes for their female volunteers, while up to 19 NGBs have provided opportunities for their female leaders to join a leadership programme coordinated by Swim Ireland. The programme continues to roll out across the sector due to demand and is now entering its fourth instalment.

Equality action plans and gender diversity targets are part of the Government National Sport Policy and will be carefully monitored to ensure that the possible stalling of progress indicated by the numbers is managed back into shape.

“The launch this week of a new board recruitment service by the Federation of Irish Sport, with support from Sport Ireland, for National Governing Bodies and Local Sports Partnerships is a timely development,” said Sport Ireland Director of Participation and Ethics, Dr Una May.

“This is a positive for both potential board members, who will have the opportunity to put themselves forward for arising vacancies, and organisations, that will have a list of suitably qualified candidates to select from.”

“Sport Ireland will continue to provide training and development opportunities for women as part of our strategic vision of a sector operating to the highest standards of governance and accountability.”

“The Sport Ireland Women in Sport Programme invests in female leadership capacity, increases the availability of skilled Female Board members and guides Governance best practice that supports gender equity,” added Women in Sport Lead at Sport Ireland Nora Stapleton.

“The M-Power Mentoring Programme continues to support females in the sports sector, while we are very satisfied with the leadership programmes being developed by the NGBs and LSPs.”

“In order to support sporting bodies, Sport Ireland, with the help of expert consultants Leading Sport, have developed a Gender Diversity on Boards Toolkit that can be utilised by sports leaders in order to provide guidance on the recruitment and retention of women on boards.”

“The benefits of diverse boards is widely accepted and this toolkit can help NGBs, LSPs and other funded bodies on their journey of improving, and or maintaining, gender diversity on their board.”

Nobody can expect that full equality can be gained overnight at the stroke of a pen, or the click of a mouse.  There should be consistent progress though and this is an area where we will focus significant attention in 2021.

Sport for Business Partners