There has been a healthy increase in the discussion and visibility of women’s sport throughout the last couple of years. It’s not before time either. In my eyes we are still not at a place in this country though where we give enough credit to our female athletes who are as dedicated, committed and talented as anything in the men’s game.
I have been very lucky over the years to watch a lot of exceptional sport at all levels both as a reporter and a spectator and to me there is no difference between men and women. Sport is sport, be it played by men or women.
I have watched probably more camogie, women’s soccer and ladies football than most, and never once would I walk away thinking the participants are any less than their male counterparts I report on. It is an incredible shame that for a country that prides itself on being a sporting nation that women’s sports are still seen as inferior. Some of Ireland’s greatest sports stars are female, from Sonia O’Sullivan to Katie Taylor to Emma Byrne and beyond, but rarely does the praise they fitfully garner filter down. We laud those at the top when they are winning then ignore them until the next big event comes along.
The reason that there is a sea-change coming – and it is getting to the point where women’s sport can no longer be ignored – is down to the women themselves. If there has been an increase in attention on women’s sport it is because they themselves have pushed their way onto the agenda. Katie Taylor, the Irish Women’s rugby team, the under 19’s soccer side, the Cork Ladies Footballers, among others, have made it impossible for the media and the country at large to ignore their achievements. The sheer fact that they have garnered such column inches and airtime is due to their own hard work and nothing else. They have pushed themselves on the pitch or in the gym, they have done it for the love of their sport and even more impressively they made the country at large sit up and take notice.
Two years ago I was immensely lucky to take on the role of manager of the Leixlip Ladies Football team in Kildare. It has without a doubt provided me with some of the best memories of my sporting and personal life. The sheer amount of hard work, dedication and drive from the girls has been a joy. They train as hard as any men’s team. They shrug off every obstacle thrown in their way. They are as dedicated to the cause as any team in any sport in the country.
On at least three separate occasions this year I had girls come to me directly and tell me that I wasn’t giving them a proper chance or I was playing them in the wrong position. They were calm, reasoned and up front. It’s rare that you would get that from young men, I know myself I was never someone with enough confidence to say something like that to a manager. Each of those three players turned out to be absolutely correct, and when they played in their best positions they were excellent. They think and care about the game, they push themselves just like anyone else. It showed to me that they are as invested in the team and club as anyone else. Women don’t just play for the craic, for a chance to get out in the fresh air. They are driven and want to win. Many are talented dual players yet they never get the credit that is afforded to men’s teams or players. It was ever thus, but it is completely wrong.
I have had as many enlightening and interesting conversations with women about sport as I have had with men. I have been astonished by acts of skill or bravery on the pitch by both men and by women. The standard is rising all the time in womens sport across the board. The graft, the hard yards are the same from male to female. The 6am gym sessions, the impaired social lives, it’s not just lads who make these sacrifices.
As in life, so in sport, we need to treat everyone equally, we need to laud our sporting heroes no matter their chromosome. Next year do yourself a favour and get along to a women’s game in whatever sport you favour. Believe me you won’t be disappointed. Sport is sport, it doesn’t matter who is playing it, just enjoy it for what it is.