Sport Ireland has released an updated Women in Sport Policy, building on its commitment to promote gender equality and empower women in the sports sector, and including a shared commitment to a strategic increase in funding.
Originally launched in March 2019, the policy aimed to enhance the involvement of women in sports and provide a roadmap for Sport Ireland’s initiatives in this area.
In February 2023, Sport Ireland conducted a comprehensive review of the Women in Sport Policy, engaging an independent consultant to ensure its relevance, effectiveness, and alignment with the current needs of the sector.
Sport Ireland’s stated vision for Women in Sport is “One where women have an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential while enjoying lifelong participation and involvement in sport.”
Nora Stapleton Director of Strategic National Governing Body Programmes & Women in Sport Lead will be joining us at the Sport for Business Annual Women in Sport Conference this Thursday morning to discuss the updated policy.
The National Sports Policy targets equal gender participation by 2027 but the gender gap remains at 5 per cent, the same as it was in 2021 in the most recent Irish Sports Monitor that tracks these numbers. It has narrowed from over 15 percent in 2007 but there is an imperative for a fresh push to ensure that momentum does not stall.
So how to go about that with key objectives and targets?
The gap only begins to assert itself in secondary school where 80 percent of girls take part in weekly sports activity, versus 90 percent of boys. Girls have a slight edge in primary school so it is important to start young and focus on this key transition.
The Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity Study, also conducted in 2022 shows that only 11 per cent of girls take part in the recommended level of activity, defined as 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily and strengthening or flexibility exercise three times a week, compared to 90 per cent of boys.
Addressing the drop-out rate among teenage girls in physical activity and sports is one of the key areas which the updated policy seeks to address.
Another is broadening the coaching and officiating base to include more women and girls at all levels, from grassroots to high performance.
42 per cent of the coaches certified by Sport Ireland in 2022 were female yet in the children’s survey 79 per cent of students reported being coached by men and only 18 per cent by women. In boy’s sport, the figures are worse with only three per cent reporting being coached by a woman.
Intervention and focus
Intervention and focus do work. The gender balance on boards and in leadership positions has reached 39 per cent in National Governing Bodies and 41 per cent in local sports partnerships in the latest leadership snapshot, a figure that has been helped by the threat of financial sanction in Government funding but which will need to be maintained.
Toolkits, mentoring and leadership training are all highlighted among the actions needed in the updated policy.
In participation, there is a focus on working across Government departments, a clear reference to education, in developing resources to encourage teenage participation and also in making sure that all facilities are suitable for equal participation.
Visibility is highlighted as a key area with the creation of a Women in Sport media networking group and annual think tank highlighted as objectives.
Funding for Women in Sport Programmes has been steady at €2.265 million in each of the past three years but Sport Ireland and the Government have committed to a strategic increase in this funding from next year.
The policy document concludes that “The momentum behind women in sport has never been stronger in Ireland, however, it is now critical that this momentum is capitalised upon and accelerated.
As a major part of this, it is crucial to ensure that this policy continues to deliver on Sport Ireland’s commitment to increase women’s sustained involvement in sport as coaches, officials, volunteers, club members, advocates, leaders and participants from grassroots to the podium.”
Reaction to the new updated policy
“I welcome the publication of the updated Sport Ireland Women in Sport Policy. This timely review follows sustained progress in all areas of Women in Sport from participation to high performance.”
“It is important that this momentum is maintained as we strive to achieve equal participation rates in sport between men and women by 2027, which is a key action of the National Sports Policy.”
Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin.
“There has been a real momentum in the area of Women in Sport, and the Government has been supporting this momentum through significantly increased funding for Women in Sport initiatives.”
“I welcome the renewal of this policy, particularly the inclusion of an objective around increasing representation of women in leadership positions. Government has set a target of achieving 40% gender balance on boards of sporting bodies by the end of this year, and this publication is a reminder for all organisations to maintain their momentum in achieving this key target, which I am determined to see met.”
Minister of State for Sport and Physical Education, Thomas Byrne TD, added
“The updated Women in Sport Policy reaffirms the Sport Ireland’s commitment to women in sport. Sport Ireland is tasked with overseeing action 32 of the National Sports Policy 2018-2027, which promotes gender diversity and equality action plans.”
“The policy identifies four key areas of focus, where Sport Ireland wants to make a significant, positive and measurable impact. Our work in the area of Women in Sport will continue to be centred on Coaching & Officiating, Active Participation, Leadership & Governance and Visibility. The appointment of a Women in Sport Lead for Sport Ireland has been instrumental in the progress made on this policy to date.”
Sport Ireland CEO Dr Una May
“The publication of the Women in Sport Policy in 2019 led to a step-change in the landscape for women’s participation in sport across the board from grassroots to leadership.”
“It is clear that in 2023 the momentum behind women in sport in Ireland has never been stronger, however it is now critical that this momentum is capitalised upon and accelerated. I look forward to continuing to work on the full implementation of the policy with the support of the Women in Sport Steering Committee.”
Nora Stapleton Director of Strategic National Governing Body Programmes & Women in Sport Lead