Monday 23 September 2019

Patrick O’Donovan: New sports rules will help to deliver more role models for girls

'Gender quotas will not change the Irish sporting landscape overnight, but they are an important step in addressing the imbalance' SPORTSFILE
'Gender quotas will not change the Irish sporting landscape overnight, but they are an important step in addressing the imbalance' SPORTSFILE

Patrick O’Donovan

Yesterday I announced my intention to bring a proposal to Government for approval in the new year that will start a conversation on the role women play in Irish sport.

I am proposing the introduction of a gender quota in our National Governing Bodies that is aimed at ensuring representation for women at the highest level of Irish sport. I know that this has already caused debate and even some controversy, but my motivation is to see one of the last 'glass ceilings' in terms of the place of women in Ireland being slowly removed.

I believe it is time to introduce gender quotas for the national governing bodies for sports organisations to break down that barrier further.

What I am proposing is:

  • By 2019, all National Governing Bodies of sport with 10 employees or more will have at least 30pc women, 30pc men and the other 40pc from either gender;
  • Smaller organisations will have until 2020 to implement these changes;
  • Boards that have not fulfilled the quota will face funding cuts;
  • This extends to governing sporting boards, and will not impact on representative associations such as the Gaelic Players Association.

This means it is one committee per sport that would be affected. I am not particularly surprised this initiative has gotten some negative feedback. Change can often be difficult.

However, I believe it is vitally important women are adequately represented at the top of sporting organisations.

This is not just another step towards equality in Ireland, but it is a measure that is aimed at improving our sports and most specifically, participation in sports in the longer run.

In terms of sport, men don't merely dominate boards - they dominate TV screens, whether on the field or presenting sports shows. Men dominate in coaching at your local club, and they dominate in high performance roles throughout the country.

Gender quotas will not change the Irish sporting landscape overnight, but they are an important step in addressing the imbalance.

While women have always been at the heart of clubs and teams throughout the country, it is an insult to imply, as some have recently, that washing jerseys or making sandwiches is in any way comparable to making decisions in the boardroom.

Perhaps more worrying though is the fact that female participation is still behind that of males. This is most evident amongst the young: girls are much more likely to quit playing sports in their teenage years than boys.

There are many reasons for this, but much of it comes from the simple fact that teenage girls are not receiving adequate support, and there are nowhere near enough female role models in sport to inspire them.

It is our duty as citizens and sport lovers to encourage children to engage, and fall in love with sport. Boys and girls alike should be allowed an equal opportunity to appreciate the sense of community, the development and the pure joy of sport, but we must lead from the top. Gender quotas will help us do that.

Patrick O'Donovan is a Fine Gael TD and Sports Minister

Irish Independent

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