Friday 21 October 2016

Comment: Shouting 'sexist!' often distracts attention from the debates that are most needed in women's sport

Published 24/07/2015 | 13:34

Catherine McGourty highlighted the need for change
Catherine McGourty highlighted the need for change

IT would never happen to the men! That was the response of some female athletes and sports fans this week about two controversies involving camogie players and it is almost a default one.

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First there was the Ulster female Poc Fada winner Catherine McGourty (Down) who was understandably piste off to discover that her prize last Monday was a medal compared to her male counterpart who got a medal, a trophy and, er....a ski holiday!

The second is the possibility that two counties (Dublin and Clare) may yet have to toss a coin on Sunday to decide which of them gets into the All-Ireland camogie quarter-finals.

First: the Poc Fada situation.

A glaring and disappointing inequity alright. On the day both men and women covered the exact same distance and hit the same weight of sliothar so surely deserved equal prizes?

But 'sexist'? No.

Sexism is prejudice or discrimination against someone on grounds of their gender.

This lapse in equality wasn't because someone said 'Oh ye're just women and we don't value your effort and skill as much as men's.'

It happened because the GAA (which only covers men's GAA) has sponsors for their Poc Fada at central level and they fund this holiday prize.

The competitions may be run simultaneously but the women's is governed by the camogie association. They don't have a sponsor for this event. Why they don't is a whole other and far more interesting debate.

It took McGourty to highlight this inequity and when she did Ulster GAA newspaper Gaelic Life and a local travel company stepped in and offered her a £500 travel voucher.

The sponsor of the men's competition would certainly do themselves some great PR if they included camogie's long hitters in their deal in future. Hopefully it is an anomaly that will be addressed now.

The other controversy was entirely of camogie's own making but to turn it into an us-or-them argument and heap all the blame on their central administrators is too simplistic.

As things stand Clare's camogie players will finish level with Dublin IF they beat Derry on Sunday. It was agreed last winter that teams who finish on level points after the group stages will then be separated by 1) goals scored in their earlier meeting 2) points scored in the same and then 3) by a coin toss.

They finished on 1-8 apiece on July 11. Oops!

But camogie is not the first sport to pick a coin toss to decide something of such import.

If Nigeria and Iran had finished level in Group F of  last year's (men's) World Cup (which thankfully they didn't) they would have tossed a coin for a last-16 place.

Italy made the final of the 1968 European soccer championships by a coin toss and Liverpool (1964) and Celtic (1969) were also beneficiaries of coin tosses in the late stages of the European Cup.

Drawing straws shouldn't be the deciding factor in something so important where there were other options and why someone in the camogie association did not chose them or foresee this scenario does beg some questions of its central administration.

Some questions, equally, must be asked of local county officials who didn't immediately stick up their lamha and say 'hold on, why not use scoring difference or average?'

County secretaries and chairpersons were all at the meeting when it was first suggested. The format was then sent to all county boards for discussion before it was ratified. There was widespread consultation on it.

The GAA often similarly produces a bit of legislation that leaves counties up in arms -  witness the recent debates about hurling league competition structures.

Such anomalies usually prompt people to scramble up on high horses faster than you can say 'Ruby Walsh' only to be immediately unseated by learning that their own delegates actually voted for the very rules that are now working against them.

The camogie association say that only one county raised a red flag on this issue throughout all those consultations.

So a lot of camogie administrators, not just in Croke Park, were caught napping.

The camogie association is now adamant that must stick to the rules and use a coin toss on Sunday if both counties finish level.

But actually a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals still doesn't have to be decided by a game of rock-scissors-paper.

The winner of the coin-toss could just magnanimously offer their opponents a play-off. One could surely be arranged and hey presto, the matter is sorted.

What this week's stories shows is that female athletes sometimes get the short straw no matter how talented or dedicated they are.

There are often lots of reasons for it. Yelling 'Sexism!' reflexively, inventing conspiracy theories or blaming the wrong people can sometimes distract from the much bigger debates that are needed about harnessing sponsorship and greater support and crowds for them.

The camogie association has actually done an awful lot right in recent years. In trying to improve their structures again they cocked up. They need to admit and correct it.

The coin toss situation is certainly a lesson to sport, of both genders, that officials at central and local level must always examine the fine-print thoroughly.

Boardroom errors often come back to bite players on the bum and that is exactly who officials are there to serve.

Read more: "It's totally sexist" - Top camogie player furious with GAA as she scoops Poc Fada medal while men win holiday

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