Sport GAA

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Colm O'Rourke: Minister's foolish quota idea patronises women

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Patrick O’Donovan. Photo: Tom Burke
Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Patrick O’Donovan. Photo: Tom Burke
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Patrick O'Donovan, Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, announced last week that by 2019 any sports body with more than 10 employees has to have female representation of at least 30 per cent on its board in order to secure the full amount of State funding.

Now I don't know Mr O'Donovan and he looks like a lad who could be playing a bit of junior football, but where did he get this harebrained idea from? Was there a hue and cry from women in the GAA for representation on some of the main committees? Was it a subject of hot political debate around the country? Not at all. In fact, I have never heard it mentioned.

The top officials in the GAA have made no comment on this idea. They probably won't either, but I'm sure they all feel that it is absolutely ludicrous that something like this should be imposed for purely cosmetic reasons. In this era of political correctness, there will be nobody in the GAA who will stick their head over the parapet and say what they really think to the Minister. The message, if it could be delivered, would be to take his nose out of the business of an amateur organisation which runs its affairs very efficiently.

There may be disagreements on policy, on competitions and playing rules, but that is a different matter entirely from saying that there is any pressing need for women to be parachuted on to the board of the GAA. Anyway, the real power lies in the management committee, which is made up of some elected members and some full-time employees. Some of this elected group would have to stand aside to allow women become token representatives, because this is not about ability. If women want to be involved badly enough they will get themselves elected to county committees - as Róisín Jordan has in Tyrone, where she is chairperson. She did not need gender quotas, she had the ability and respect of all the clubs in Tyrone and got herself elected. I'm sure she has no need or desire to be given a post just because she is a woman.

In many respects the GAA is a bit different. Of course it was dominated in the past by men and, while many women are now heavily involved with clubs, a great number of others have immersed themselves in ladies' football and fill the key board roles in that organisation. So if the Minister wants to proceed he will need more women involved in the men's game and more men in the women's end of things. How ludicrous would that be?

Is there any evidence to suggest that this would improve either organisation in any way by forcing change against the democratic wish of members?

In the past, women played a key role in the GAA in a quiet way. Now the feminists would advise them that making sandwiches, washing gear and generally supporting their sons and daughters should be beneath them, and they should play a more vocal front-of-house role. The point that is being missed is that most of these same women are quite happy to do the traditional roles - they don't want the prominent positions and don't feel that they are treated like second-class citizens either.

The process of change will take place in its own time. More and more clubs have women involved on executive committees, often in the roles of secretary or treasurer. There is no glass ceiling, they are happy to do this work and generally have no ambition to go any further, in exactly the same way as a lot of men are happy to serve their club for a lifetime. They don't need some type of artificial promotion when they can get as far as they want on pure merit. Of course it is difficult to break into a male-dominated sport, but men might find it just as hard to do the same in a female-dominated organisation.

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In all the discussion about representation the only word not mentioned in the proposal is merit. I work in a female-dominated profession, teaching, and nobody there claims that women are not as capable of any job as men. In fact, I often think that women, as a general rule, are better at the job than men as they often have more empathy - and more often too, they are totally focused on the task at hand.

Yet men of ability get on well and are judged on merit. Nobody in their right mind would look at some special privileges for the male teacher.

In fact, quotas do not generally work, whether it is milk, butter or women. If the GAA have some women of great ability looking for top jobs there is absolutely no reason why they won't get them, but some artificial mechanism may mean that a man who is there on merit may have to relinquish his post. Where is the natural justice there?

One thing I do know a bit about is the workings of the GAA, from the bottom to the very top. In all my years at various levels I have never come across a situation where women of ability and ambition have been discriminated against. Instead, I think they have always been encouraged, as they bring a certain perspective to all affairs.

That is entirely different to saying that in some way a certain number of positions at the highest level should be set aside for them just because they are women. Neither in the last few days, since this was announced, have I heard a chorus of approval from any group of women in the GAA.

The reason for it is simple, they do not see any great need for this silly proposal, which would penalise the most democratic organisation in the country by placing artificial quotas on representation of both men and women on boards.

Perhaps some of our leading sports officials will publicly tell the Minister that he would be better off to move on - nothing to report here. Yet if they do so they may risk the wrath of women's equality groups, so they will stay quiet, hope this is a bit of kite-flying and things will settle down quickly.

In a country where there is a great love of sport, it is completely underfunded and has suffered from poor planning - or no planning - and little in the way of investment in education or healthy living. Instead, we get a half-baked idea of putting women on the boards of organisations like the GAA who have filled the void of Governments since the foundation of the State in providing quality sports facilities. There are about a thousand more important things for a minister to be working on than this daft proposal.

What about starting by properly funding sport in education? There are a lot of women who would get involved in this and there would be no need for quotas either.

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