Saturday 20 July 2019

Steph Roche's goal has done wonders for women's sport

Cliona Foley

If the best 'technical' goal really does win the Puskas award at FIFA'S Ballon d'Or in Zurich today then Stephanie Roche won't be off the rollercoaster for some time.

Even if it doesn't, the Shankill, Co Dublin woman has already made a massive contribution to women's sport globally. For the past 50 years female athletes, particularly in team sports, have wondered what they have to do to increase their audiences.

They inevitably encounter the same argument: people don't watch them because they're not as skilful or fast or powerful as their male counterparts.

Women counter that their sports still provide lots of inherent skill, beauty and excitement . . . if only people bothered to watch.

And if they don't get media coverage to showcase it, then how can we attract and maintain bigger audiences.

Roche's goal provided them with plenty of ammo.

Less than 100 people were at that Peamount United versus Wexford Youths game.

The world would never have seen her astonishing piece of skill if an opposition mentor had not filmed it and posted it online.

Both here and across the water, 2014 was seen as a watershed moment for women's sport and new media has played a huge part. Because of it, Roche shares a stage today with two superstars as their equal.

Ireland's women's rugby team finally got to play in Lansdowne Road in 2014 and a women's team - Cork's nine-time All-Ireland winning ladies Gaelic footballers - won RTE's prestigious 'Team of the Year' award.

In 2013, two companies (AIG and Liberty Insurance) included women alongside men in their respective sponsorships of Dublin GAA and the hurling/camogie championship.

In 2014, the women in those advertising campaigns were no longer professional models in skimpy outfits but female athletes in county gear, given equal status and the same opportunity as their male counterparts to become recognisable role models.

Three years ago, no woman was short-listed for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. In 2014, there were four. Veteran runner Jo Pavey finished third overall and pocket-rocket gymnast Claudia Fragapane won the Young SPOY award.

In the coming week, Sporting England will launch a new 'This Girl Can' campaign to encourage young girls to get more active, something else that will push women's sports on to the national agenda.

But athletes, the public, the corporate world and media still have a way to go.

Despite lavish praise from so many global soccer stars, Stephanie Roche still hasn't got a boot deal or a car and washes her own gear.

She rubs shoulders with multi-millionaires today but reportedly got just €800 a month from the French club she has just left.

That goal was actually scored in October 2013, which indicates just how long it took to break down some prejudices.

Next week a new ladies' Gaelic players association (WGPA) will be launched.

Why? Partly because no matter how brilliant a camogie or ladies' football player is, she was still out of pocket in 2014 by playing for her county, which explains why Cork dual star Briege Corkery and Co are currently fundraising themselves for a team holiday.

Female athletes generally don't want special privileges or acclaim they haven't earned. They just can't help noticing that a lot of mediocre males get plenty of attention , and for women to get anything remotely close they have to do something exceptional.

So, do yourselves and Steph Roche and all the brilliant female athletes out there a favour: make a date to go and see women in action in the coming months, and bring your friends and children.

If nothing else because being there in person may be the only chance you have of witnessing a piece of action as spectacular and singularly skilful as that wonder-strike.

Irish Independent

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