Women in sport has been a very hot topic in Ireland throughout 2019, and really for the latter half of this decade.
This conversation has run parallel with the cultural change movements that have dominated mindsets and news agendas, from the sustainability and climate change agenda to the search for stronger corporate purpose and values, to the wider debate around gender equality and women in business. Women in sport, and increasing the investment in, respect for, coverage of and participation in, is very much aligned to these wider conversations.
In 2019, we have seen significant milestones. Media outlets have spent significant budget on purchasing rights to female events and ensured female analysts are included in their teams for both male and female sports events. Sport for business continues to drive the agenda when it comes to women in the business of sport, The Irish Times has a page dedicated every week to women’s sport, while Cliona Foley and Newstalk have the Off the Bench podcast. All of this is contributing to this momentum. It is this “positive discrimination” that continues to make a difference.
The pace of change has been swift, aided somewhat by an enlightened societal acceptance that this is the right thing to do and aided by advances in technology and bolstered by the fact that it now makes commercial sense.
The momentum around the women in sport movement was particularly evident with the launch of the Sport Ireland Women in Sport policy last March. This is underpinned by two years of extensive research and provides a long-term, sustainable plan for women in sport that is designed to deliver tangible improvements across four pillars: coaching and officiating, active participation, leadership and governance, and visibility. This policy has the support, structure and Government funding to ensure a significant difference can, and will, be made.
When it comes to women in sport in Ireland, the picture is certainly more positive than it has been in previous years but the reality is that this is still a somewhat confused and contradictory picture.
The Teneo Sport and Sponsorship Index (TSSI) is a 1,000-person nationally representative survey that examines the Irish general public’s attitudes towards sport. This is the 10th year of the report and second year that the survey has had an extra specific focus on women in sport. The results demonstrate that while progress is certainly being made, there is still a road to travel.
It is not surprising that the perception of the majority of those surveyed (73 per cent) is that more is being done in the media to actively profile women’s sport this year than ever before.
A good example of this standout media coverage in 2019 was a televisual first for Ireland when RTÉ and TG4 teamed up to show all games of the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup last summer.
This was a real statement of intent by the national broadcaster. The decision to show this tournament was very much justified through the audience figures (an average of 83,700 per game with a peak of 265,000 during the final) and demonstrates the appetite among the Irish public to consume top-class sporting action regardless of the gender.
Despite the perception that more is being done, only a quarter (25 per cent) of those surveyed said that female sport receives enough coverage. But the dial is moving in the right direction as this is up from 19 per cent in 2018.
With the opportunities to watch women’s sport on TV or online at an all-time high, it is encouraging, yet expected, to see an increase in the numbers who tuned in going from 41 per cent in 2018 to 45 per cent this year. With so much choice on our screens, these people do not have to watch female sports, but choose to do so.