The imbalance between men’s and women’s sport is not getting larger but it is not closing

Aoife Breslin

It’s been said that women’s sport has been making huge positive strides over the past number of years in Ireland, but with male athletes enjoying higher salaries, more coverage and greater sponsorship than their female counterparts, one has to question whether progress is really being made.

It’s not fair for me to paint everyone with the same brush and simply conclude that people aren’t doing enough to promote women’s sport.

The 20×20 campaign started with aims that would’ve seemed far too ambitious 10 years ago, but now have at least opened the floodgates for improvement to happen, and it slowly is happening. It’s unfortunately the ever-present cultural problems that seem to keep women’s sport behind men.

Other elements are helping the rise in popularity too. Subtle changes in attitude and forever eliminating that weird stereotype of being a ‘sporty’ girl. Women like the US soccer team are standing up for what they believe in, challenging the system, and inspiring a generation of young women.

Unsurprisingly, the scale of success for women in Irish sport is extraordinarily large, and when that victory does come along, for a brief moment it inspires a nation.

Will there ever be a team in Ireland again as successful as the Cork women footballers? Was it the women’s hockey team that inspired a crop of Irish children to play the game? Has anyone dominated their field more than the great Katie Taylor?

So, if the success and glorious nostalgia is there, why is women’s sport so far behind?

There are many basic issues but a severe one is when it comes to media attention. You can’t force people to care. If people like the sport, then they will watch it, and it seems that amongst the general public, it is all talk and no action. People in an ideal world want to improve women’s sport but simply don’t have full interest.

If there is no loyal support base, then the sport will not develop. In Ireland, support for women’s teams is predominately family members of the team.

Attendance at the 2015 All-Ireland Ladies football final was more than 30,000 making it the highest attended women’s sporting event in Europe that year. Although attendance was up 4000 from 2014, it seems a hollow victory when you consider the men’s football final drew a crowd of 82,300.

If we focus on salaries and expenses. This week the Women’s Gaelic Players Association has called for equality in funding. Among 534 players, it showed that elite female players put in similar hours of training as their male counterparts but receive less than a quarter of the government funding that men do.

A lot would argue so easily that this has to do with gender but it’s more to do with economics. The women’s game and their association generate very little money. Similarly, in men’s GAA, the male intercounty players receive more expenses than the male club players because the club player generates less money.

In 2015 the FA Cup was won by Arsenal in both the men’s and women’s tournament but where the men received almost £2 million in prize money, the women received just £5000. For women’s sports to flourish and grow there needs to be an adequate investment and that only comes from a large following of supporters.

But that can happen. Did the world care about UFC before the arrival of Conor McGregor?

In an ideal world, women shouldn’t have to compete with men for audiences, there’s room for everyone if we can close the gender gap.

It’s not a new issue. But it’s becoming a worrying issue at this stage.

Aoife Breslin

Image Credit: Eóin Noonan Sportsfile