Friday 17 August 2018

Hockey team's achievement shouldn't be watered down by gender specifics

Hockey may be a largely middle-class sport but so is rugby and few complain about government funding of it when we’re winning the Six Nations. Stock image
Hockey may be a largely middle-class sport but so is rugby and few complain about government funding of it when we’re winning the Six Nations. Stock image
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

One of the most noticeable features of Ireland's remarkable odyssey at the Hockey World Cup is the way it has been described and judged.

Let's face it, given its 'minority sport' status, most of us don't have a rashers about the game.

All we know is that they went into a tournament ranked 16th in the world, beat teams ranked seventh, 10th and 11th and only lost 1-0 to the reigning Olympic champions (England) before losing heavily to the defending champions in the final.

Having nothing to judge them against we were simply wowed by Ireland's skill, fortitude and nervelessness, especially in winning two unforgettable penalty shootouts. That lack of comparison is quite rare when it comes to women's sport, especially in team sport.

Too often female athletes are viewed through the prism of their male counterparts and judged to be less worthy in terms of power, speed and skill, instead of simply being appreciated for their own skills and performances.

Even in the past week, Ireland's first ever World Cup finalists in any team sport have been repeatedly described as the 'Irish women's hockey team' when there was no need for this gender specificity. You never hear Johnny Sexton and Co described as the 'Irish men's rugby team'.

Their surreal run to the nose-bleed altitude of World Cup silver medallists has also been described as 'a great thing for Irish women's sport' and 'for women's hockey'. No, it has been a great thing for Irish sport and for Irish hockey. Period.

Earlier this year some people got into high dudgeon about the awarding of grants to improve hockey pitches in some private schools (some of which also host club hockey).

There were allegations of political interference (roundly denied by Minister Shane Ross) but much of the criticism was also that there were more worthy projects - especially in socially-deprived areas - that lost out to the 'poshies' playing 'protestant hurling'.

But this team has had to self-fund themselves for many years in the form of €550 individual levies.

They only managed to bag a sponsor two months ago. So, while we've all been hopping on the hockey bandwagon, that reverse-snobbery should be acknowledged.

Hockey may be a largely middle-class sport but so is rugby and few complain about government funding of it when we're winning the Six Nations.

Class should be just as irrelevant to conversations about this team as their gender.

Thanks to lifetimes of dedication and hard work - and a lot of volunteer support - they have risen to this phenomenal global status with far less resources and finances than most of their opposition.

That only makes them more admirable, yet it's also clear that harnessing that struggle is part of what has made them so great.

Cohesion and a never-say-die attitude are qualities you can't buy and something, as a sporting nation, that can be one of our great assets.

This hockey team is no longer Ireland's greatest hidden sporting talent. They are world-beaters.

We must, strategically and financially, do whatever is needed to maintain that status.

The players, coach and management have already shown themselves to be the experts in everything they do, so their opinions are the only ones that matter now - not the rest of us bluffers.

Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport