Sunday 30 April 2017

Comment: Ireland women's soccer team revelations are mortifying for all involved - but there's something more worrying at play

Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team captain Emma Byrne (centre) speaks alongside Aine O’Gorman (left), Karen Duggan (right) and other team-mates during a news conference at Liberty Hall in Dublin. Photo: Cody Glenn
Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team captain Emma Byrne (centre) speaks alongside Aine O’Gorman (left), Karen Duggan (right) and other team-mates during a news conference at Liberty Hall in Dublin. Photo: Cody Glenn
Republic of Ireland Women's National Team captain Emma Byrne speaks alongside, seated from left, Stephanie Roche, Aine O'Gorman, Karen Duggan, and other team-mates during a women's national team press conference at Liberty Hall in Dublin. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Captain Emma Byrne with some of her international team-mates at Liberty Hall. Photo: CODY GLENN/SPORTSFILE
Stephanie Roche
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

The revelations which emerged during Tuesday’s press conference held by the Irish women’s team were mortifying for all involved.

For the women themselves - forced to publicly reveal the indignities forced on them, despite their commitment to representing Ireland.

For the FAI - who have been wrangling with the issue behind the scenes for two years.

And for sports fans in general.

Stephanie Roche
Stephanie Roche

It is embarrassing to think that in 2017 we are still faced with an imbalance that sees international players forced to change in airport toilets.

But amid the embarrassment came something even more worrying – the response to the team’s well-founded grievances.

Captain Emma Byrne with some of her international team-mates at Liberty Hall. Photo:
CODY GLENN/SPORTSFILE
Captain Emma Byrne with some of her international team-mates at Liberty Hall. Photo: CODY GLENN/SPORTSFILE

Their list of demands makes for basic reading. There are no outlandish demands included among the requests for team tracksuits and compensation.

And still they faced a thinly veiled warning: Their careers will suffer because they have aired the FAI’s dirty laundry very much in public view.

Republic of Ireland Women's National Team captain Emma Byrne speaks alongside, seated from left, Stephanie Roche, Aine O'Gorman, Karen Duggan, and other team-mates during a women's national team press conference at Liberty Hall in Dublin. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland Women's National Team captain Emma Byrne speaks alongside, seated from left, Stephanie Roche, Aine O'Gorman, Karen Duggan, and other team-mates during a women's national team press conference at Liberty Hall in Dublin. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

A decision, it seems, which was not taken lightly.

Reading excerpts from the association’s letter to the team sheds some light on why it may have taken years for the issue to be cast under a media spotlight.

"There is a real danger that the consequences of the actions you have threatened and your refusal to engage directly will set back the development of the game generally and the development of your own careers as players," the letter reads.

Not only that but their actions could damage the progress of the game as a whole.

It could upset their fans to see them balk at being forced to ask for something as simple as wifi when they travel abroad.

The notion was further compounded by FAI high performance director Ruud Dokter who said on radio that by refusing to negotiate (at a table where negotiations have so far yielded unsatisfactory results according to the team), the players were putting their reputation on the line.

You don’t have to be a woman in sport to recognise the sentiment in those words.

Women absorb, almost by osmosis, the idea that to speak out in the face of injustice or inequality at work will likely lead to problems down the line.

It will hamper their progress and a careful decision must be considered: Is it better to put up and shut up or speak out and risk garnering a reputation for being ‘difficult’?

Women are taught to protect their reputation fiercely – whether that is at work or elsewhere.

It is something to be nurtured by always remaining inoffensive.

It doesn’t much matter if her complaint is well-founded or justified; the fear is that the act of voicing her grievance will be enough to stunt her development.

Nobody wants to work with contrary women.

Battles are chosen wisely. Often it is only worth rocking the boat, when remaining on it feels unbearable.

And it must feel unbearable not to have access to the basic requirements for any elite athlete: gym membership, nutrition, financial support.

The Ireland team have decided that this is a battle worth fighting. And more power to them.

As they seek parity with the men who don the green jersey it is worth remembering that the last player who spoke out about poor conditions facing our national team is now a key asset to the backroom set-up.

His progress was not hampered. His reputation did not hold him back. His outburst did not stunt his club career.

But maybe there was never any real fear it would.

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