DCU and 23 other colleges and universities around Ireland recently signed the 20×20 charter to support women in sport.
20×20 aims to change the perception of women’s sport in Ireland by 2020. The campaign wants a 20 per cent increase in media coverage of women’s sport, in female participation in sport and in attendance at women’s games and events.
“It’s not just a campaign or an initiative, it’s more of a movement to change how sport is viewed,” said Yvonne McGowan, Senior Sports Development Officer at DCU.
McGowan said DCU plan to give clubs the opportunity to apply for funding through the Club Life Committee. With this funding, clubs would have the power to increase female involvement in sports through their own ideas and events.
“We want to empower students to take ownership and to run fun events and activities that they would like to run,” said McGowan.
McGowan, who is a member of Student Sport Ireland’s Physical Activity, Health and Wellbeing Committee, said she wanted colleges and universities involved in 20×20 since she became aware of it.
McGowan contacted 20×20 because she felt that colleges are a large sector representing over 200,000 students and they needed a plan specifically tailored to them.
“It’s a critical transition point where students and girls particularly drop out of sport. They move from organised school structures, they’ve even began to whittle off around secondary school.”
Louise McCleery, media and politics student and Public Relations Officer of the Club Life Committee, said that a lot of teenage girls stop playing sport in school because they think they don’t have the time.
McCleery said it was around the final two years of secondary school when she noticed her friends and teammates dropping out of sport.
“[They think they] don’t have enough time or that it’s actually a hindrance to them going out and doing an hour of training because they think they’re wasting time or they’re not having enough time to study,” she said.
“Around that age you’ve a million and one things going on in your head and sport probably just gets put down the list.”
McCleery said one of the best things she did in college was getting involved in DCU’s rugby team when she was in first year.
“I’d even say the majority of my friends are the rugby girls,” she said. “I’ve built such a bond with these girls…straight away you have a base, you have a group of people who are already involved in the college for years, but you also have new people coming in.”
McCleery said they plan to hold leadership talks where successful women in sport visit DCU and give a talk. They would also meet clubs and other DCU students to boost awareness of women in sport.
The 20×20 movement is not only about women athletes, but also includes women coaches and administrators. McGowan said DCU will have opportunities for volunteer female coaches.
She said the Club Life Committee will also give students interested in coaching funding towards their development as a coach.
“We can get more students onto coaching courses and kind of inspire and model by having more females involved.”
20×20 is a very social media driven campaign, and McGowan said DCU will use its media to profile women in sport who wouldn’t usually get coverage.
“A lot of the media stuff people see is high profile, which is fantastic because that’s what gets coverage, but I’d love to as part of this get some students who have a story to tell,” she said.
McCleery said this would give students a chance to get to know not just “high performance athletes”, but also “regular” students.
DCU’s Director of Sports and Wellbeing, James Galvin said this will “raise the profile of our female athletes, our female participants in physical activity and then that will embed itself in our minds and it becomes as normal as seeing men on the back of the newspapers.”
McGowan recognised that sport is not for everyone and said that DCU have plans to get women involved in physical activity without having to join a club.
McGowan said DCU Students’ Union purchased sports equipment, such as hurls and rounders bats, that students can borrow as they wish. McGowan would also like to have yoga and pilates courses at lunchtime.
DCU women are actually more active than women at other universities according to the Student Activity and Sports Study Ireland (SASSI) report in 2016. The report states that 58 per cent of female students surveyed in Ireland were highly active, while at DCU 76 per cent were considered highly active. However, McGowan said that this does not give the college an excuse to stop improving.
By the end of October DCU have to report back to 20×20 about what pillars they will support and what their plans are for promoting women in sport.