Wednesday 18 September 2019

Tony Ward: I'm all for equality, but jobs should go to best people, regardless of their gender

We must walk carefully before we run

Sene Naoupu and her Irish team-mates have long since broken down out-world perceptions of the women’s game. Photo: Sportsfile
Sene Naoupu and her Irish team-mates have long since broken down out-world perceptions of the women’s game. Photo: Sportsfile
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Back in the day, I played in an exhibition game in Bermuda. The main event, involving many of the prominent internationals of the time, was preceded by a warm-up match between two ladies teams over from the USA.

The standard of the women's game was atrocious. On the back of that experience - we are talking late '70s/early '80s - I could be accused of wearing blinkers for many years where the development of female rugby was concerned.

And just to put the record straight a couple of years ago I played (well ambled around) a so-called celebrity tag event, involving a number of recently retired female internationals. Suffice to say I was blown away by the standard of running and passing.

Generation

The point I am trying to make is that being of a certain generation meant that in rugby clubs throughout the land, women made the meals and men played the rugby.

And guess what, the women not only served the men the meals but cleaned up after them too.

It was of course a different time with different values and different societal norms. So, I'm glad to say that many years on and hugely enlightened, I have long embraced anything that encourages active involvement for women in sport.

Given that backdrop, where do I stand on Minister Patrick O'Donovan's plan to fine sporting organisations that fail to meet gender quotas whereby all sporting boards must be made up of 30pc women over a two to three-year period (by 2019)?

To be brutally honest, it worries me.

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I accept the principle whereby just as young girls are encouraged to take up sport early, so too should the opening be equal for women to compete with men for positions of administration.

As a sports lover, I am 100pc for gender equality - but that equality must be based on ability stemming from equal opportunity.

It is about equality based on ability much more than equality for the sake of equality.

Put simply we want the best people for the most important jobs irrespective of their gender.

Rugby need look no further than its own backyard, specifically to South Africa, where racial quotas are all but leading to Apartheid in reverse. The game in the Rainbow Republic is struggling like never before.

I do accept the Minister's point when he stresses the need to break "the last glass ceiling" and for sure young women need role models off the field as well as on.

I fully support his stance and this initiative, but can I respectfully suggest he holds fire on the threat to impose sanctions on those sporting bodies failing to hit 30pc .

It's time to walk carefully before we run. Small steps initially can take us a hell of a long way perhaps a lot quicker and far further than we might imagine.

The seed has been planted; let's at least give it some time and space to grow.

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