Sport GAA

Tuesday 20 August 2019

COMMENT - Gender quota proposals: equality or tokenism?

Women shouldn't need a helping hand to get a fair deal, but the numbers don't lie

'Even in my own industry I often feel it’s one step forward then two steps back.' Photo: Sportsfile
'Even in my own industry I often feel it’s one step forward then two steps back.' Photo: Sportsfile

Marie Crowe

There's a typical scene in GAA clubs around the country on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Parents drop their kids off for training and underage matches. The coaches put the young players through their paces and take charge of games - these roles are mostly filled by men.

Afterwards the kids will head into the club shop to be served their treats and buy the club gear. More often than not it's women who handle these jobs. Indeed since women first established a presence in the GAA, things have been done in a certain way in clubs; little has changed.

There have been exceptions to the rule.

In 1993 Mary Hanley became manager of the Newmarket-on-Fergus senior hurling team in Clare. It was a huge shock and very divisive too. At the time it seemed she was breaking down barriers, but on reflection none fell. There hasn't been a woman in charge of a senior team in the county since.


This is largely because there's always been a perception in clubs that women can and should only do certain jobs. If there is to be progress, that perception must change - and the responsibility for that falls on the shoulders of both sexes.

Women need to step out of their comfort zones and men need to facilitate their willingness to do so. Indeed, men need to step out of their bubble and wake up to change.

After JJ Doyle managed the Wexford camogie team to three All-Ireland titles, he moved on to the U-21 hurlers. No eyebrows were raised.

Will we ever get to see the likes of current All-Ireland winning manager Ann Downey be given a shot with any team of Kilkenny hurlers? Would she even want to?

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I heard the widespread panic from texters to radio shows yesterday when the news broke that women would need to fill 30pc of roles in boards if a sport wants to keep its public funding.

They questioned where we would find so many capable women to fill these important roles and lamented the fact that merit would be lost by virtue of these 'token' appointments.

I, however, thought of the likes of Tracey Kennedy, who is on track to be the first female chairperson of Cork County Board, not because she has broken down barriers but because she is doing such a good job in her role as vice chair.

I also thought of Roisin Jordan, the Tyrone board's chairperson, another woman doing a fantastic job. Two years ago Jordan became the first female in the country to be elected in that role.

Now, with quotas, there will be opportunities for more of these woman to come to the fore. Hopefully we will get to a stage where it will be the norm for women to hold these positions and if that happens it will be the Association who will benefit.

Of course it is a bit insulting to think that women need the introduction of quotas to succeed in sports administration. But unfortunately the numbers don't lie and we are not getting there; in fact we are barely getting close.

Yes we can all cite different examples of women who are doing well in various roles with sports organisations but the reality is there are no females on the boards of the GAA, IRFU or the FAI. That glass ceiling has yet to be shattered.


Even in my own industry I often feel it's one step forward then two steps back. When I joined the Sunday Independent as a sports journalist in 2008 there were four women working in the national print media, now only one remains, due to a variety of circumstances.

When it comes to women's sport there is a big difference between dreams and reality. As fans we'd all love to look into a crystal ball and see our camogie and ladies football teams playing their All-Ireland finals in a sold-out Croke Park.

Or see the women's national rugby team running out for a Six Nations game in front of a full house at the Aviva Stadium. But these are just dreams, ones that will probably never become reality, not in my lifetime anyway.

But seeing the perception of women in sport change is something that is within our grasp.

If a helping hand from a gender quota is what we need to achieve that then so be it. If it comes to pass, I'm sure there will be a day in the not too distant future when we will look back and say we should have done it sooner.

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