Thursday 22 August 2019

Marie Crowe: 'It's not about women for women, it's about all of society'

The 20x20 campaign was promoted in Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
The 20x20 campaign was promoted in Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Marie Crowe

A decade ago, a few days before she was due to play in the All-Ireland final, Dublin footballer Lindsay Peat hopped off her bicycle outside Anderson's Creperie in Drumcondra. She was enthusiastic, entertaining and engaging as she conducted her first major newspaper interview.

Her sporting roots and her sporting dreams were the focus of the piece and she articulated them like a seasoned pro.

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Over the next ten years, Peat's star rose even higher as she switched from Gaelic football to rugby and representing Ireland at the World Cup.

Such was her sporting prowess she picked up an All-Ireland medal and some Irish basketball caps along the way too.

Over the years Peat has grown as a person as well as an athlete, sharing her life with the many people desperate for role models in a changing world.

Peat has done many more interviews since that day in Drumcondra in 2009.

And as she became more at ease with herself she revealed the person away from the pitch, openly speaking about her struggle to deal with her sexuality, how her life was affected by the denial she lived with, how she found happiness when she met her wife and the joy she felt when she became a mother.

She also highlighted inequalities in women's sport, aired her frustrations at the lack of direction in rugby and called for better treatment of female athletes.

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The Dubliner has never shied away from the hard questions, even if it meant risking her sporting career.

In tandem with her game, Peat has broached important topics with the bravery she has shown on the pitch and normalised issues and situations so many people were battling to deal with, mostly alone.

Peat may be a sporting star but she is much more than that and a nation of sports fans have been lucky to get to know her. She has inspired more people than she will ever know and has helped make women's sport at better place.

Recently a group of female rugby players - many of them just starting out in their careers - sat in the InterContinental Hotel at an event run by Leinster Rugby.

Presentations were made by some of the most successful women in sport and business. Sponsors who had provided the girls with essentials like boots, protein and gum shields were in attendance and it signified just how far women's rugby had come in such a short space of time.

Sene Naoupu was front and centre at the event. As part of the 20x20 campaign she recently spoke with RTE's Evanne Ní Chuilinn about her battle with an eating disorder. She shared her journey from her lowest point in hospital to being able to pull on an Ireland jersey and wear it with pride. It was a harrowing tale yet so full of hope. Like Peat, she shone a light on an important issue.

Which is why the importance of the 20x20 campaign and the 'can't see can't be' slogan cannot be underestimated. The stories told by the likes of Peat and Naoupu show why it's important.

What they do on the pitch is inspiring in itself, but sharing their journey and their struggles can be life changing for those who need someone to guide them through a dark time.

During yesterday's All-Ireland football semi-final at Croke Park the 20x20 logo lit up the big screens and a giant flag was spread across the pitch. The campaign is getting stronger.

"20x20 not a 'women for women' initiative, it's 'all of society for all of society'," says Sarah Colgan, co-founder of 20x20. "It's about change and progress and all of society benefiting from that, if we all play we all win. Showing our girls that they're as worthy of our attention as boys and getting 50 per cent of our population healthier and happier, will make Ireland a better place to live. For a nation that loves sport, more sport is surely better."

It's impossible not to think about what would have happened if Peat's sporting career had begun a decade earlier, would her story ever have been heard? Back then, coverage of women's sport was the exception not the norm. Female role models were in the minority.

The landscape for women's sport has changed. We are not where we need to be yet but with the likes of Peat, Naoupu and 20x20 we are closer than ever before.

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