News Comment

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Our sportswomen deserve real support, not Twitter outrage

When all the uproar over rugby article dies down, how many of these voices will be put to better use roaring on their local female teams, asks Marie Crowe

Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30

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Marie Crowe
A tearful Grace Davitt, left, and Claire Molloy, Ireland, after their 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat (Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE)
A tearful Grace Davitt, left, and Claire Molloy, Ireland, after their 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat (Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE)

A flood of outraged people took to Twitter last Monday to vent their anger at Niamh Horan's article on women's rugby. Coincidentally, I was watching an ESPN documentary called 'Branded' as I was scrolling through Twitter.

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'Branded' is a superb film which looks at the challenges facing female sport stars from a commercial point of view and also reveals how, after years of marketing and promotion, women's games were still really only popular on a participation level.

There was one very telling statistic: an average of 427,750 people per game watched the women's NBA finals on TV in the US while an average of 16,855,000 per game watched the men's NBA finals.

The truth about last week's outraged response is that you can be sure most of the angry twitterati - 
female athletes aside - never bother going to watch women's sports.

They don't care how their local club team are doing, or know who scored for Raheny United in their impressive Champions League outing last week.

They don't think about which team will win the 2014 All-Ireland Camogie championship, or know that arguably the best Gaelic football game played this summer was the exhilarating All-Ireland minor ladies final between Cork and Galway.

Yet they were outraged by this article, furious because a journalist had written about her experience of a women's rugby training session.

Unsurprisingly, the journalist was trending, almost everybody on my Twitter timeline was talking about the article, it was being discussed on the national airwaves and some respected columnists had added their two cents. Niamh's article caused quite a stir, and for me as a sports journalist and a sports player that was infuriating.

I wondered where was this uproar during the Six Nations when droves of supporters left both Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium after the Ireland men's games against England and Italy, instead of staying to watch the women play? Didn't our national women's rugby team deserve better then like so many felt they did now?

I wondered did any of these angry tweeters object when the Irish women's soccer team lost their match-day allowance of €30, even though their male counterparts kept their allowance? Why wasn't anyone bothered by that?

Were any of them annoyed by the fact that most inter-county camogie players and ladies footballers get zero expenses for their efforts, meaning that it costs them a lot of money to represent their counties while their male counterparts are well looked after by their county boards?

How about when one of the most prominent broadcasters in the country recently asked two of Ireland's best camogie players on primetime radio if girls were afraid of getting hit if they didn't get in close enough, did any of them tweet then?

Surely these are more worthwhile issues to be getting exercised about.

As the day went on, commentators picked the piece apart, highlighting what they perceived as holes in the article. They claimed that the journalist's misconceptions were ridiculous, yet simultaneously shone the light on some of their own.

You see, female athletes don't prioritise opportunities to promote their sport, they prioritise winning. Getting media access to female players and athletes before big games and championships isn't always possible. Like their male counterparts many want to keep their heads down and get the job done.

The likes of the Railway Union girls train week in, week out because they want to finish top of their League. Sacrifices are made on and off the pitch so that they can be better players, so they can ultimately be a better team.

When these sports women take to the field for a match, they aren't thinking about all the new players they could potentially attract to their sport. They only care about defeating their opponents. If a few young girls pick up a hurl or a rugby ball after seeing them in action then that's an added bonus.

It was also argued last week that the article was seen as a wasted opportunity to hear more about female rugby players, like their diets, their fitness regimes and how they got involved in the sport.

It appears that all it takes is one mention of women's rugby in the news pages and the sports sections are completely redundant. I know the type of training female athletes do, what they have for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the struggles they face and what makes them tick. And that's not because I play sport but because I've written about it, in the sports pages.

Undoubtedly, the members of the Irish women's rugby team will have been delighted to read excellent articles by Brendan Fanning and Eamonn Sweeney about their breakthrough win over New Zealand. They will have enjoyed Derval O'Rourke's praise in her column in the Examiner, coming as it did from one of our greatest athletes of all time.

It's there, on the sports pages that these women want to be, they have earned their spot among their peers and alongside their rivals. Those are the write-ups that matter, the ones they will remember, the ones that tell their stories.

Like most things that are fashionable, this burst of outrage will soon pass but it should be noted that women's sports would be much better served if
people supported them instead of paying attention once every blue moon.

Sunday Independent

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