Women still losers in battle of the sexes
Rugby scholarship figures underline second-class status of female sport
There was satisfaction last weekend when the All-Ireland ladies' football final attendance of 31,083 became the biggest gate for any women's sports event in Europe this year, beating the women's FA Cup final between Chelsea and Notts County.
Of course it was a noteworthy achievement but the news that significantly fewer women than men receive sports scholarships in Irish third-level institutions should serve as a crash landing to any lofty notions that we lead the way in women's sport.
From Gaelic games to soccer, rowing, basketball, golf and other sports, stark new statistics reveal that more resources are available to support the combined athletic skill and academic ability of male athletes than their female counterparts.
Although most universities say criteria for independently awarding sports scholarship are based on individual performance and that opportunities are equal for male and female candidates, a Sunday Independent straw poll has found that males dominate the sports scholarships at some top institutes.
These include: Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Maynooth University (MU) and National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG).
A major disparity in sports scholarships for female rugby players has become particularly apparent. Trinity (last year) and Maynooth (this year) offered a total of 58 sports scholarships to male students, while no female rugby player was offered a scholarship.
Dublin City University (DCU), University of Limerick (UL), University College Dublin (UCD) and Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) have less blatant divides but males still hold the majority.
Concerns have now emerged over systematic funding imbalance for sporting women in college, drop-out rates among girls in sport, limited awareness that high performance female athletes can avail of sports scholarships and a lack of promotion of these awards in schools, clubs, colleges and sporting organisations. It appears that wider funding issues in women's sport are affecting this and other areas.
Last year, at DIT, a total of 102 students - 94 undergraduates and eight postgrads - were awarded a sports scholarship as part of their Athlete Support Programme. Of these, 80 are male and just 22 are females.
Although this suggests that barely one in five sports scholars are women, DIT stressed that opportunities are equal to both male and female students. A spokesperson for the college said ranking is based on individual sporting achievements, potential to develop and commitment to represent and promote the institute. "A total of €200,000 has been made available to provide a supportive environment for talented male and female athletes so that they can develop maximum sporting performance in their chosen sport as well as pursuing academic excellence," she said.
DIT sports scholarships programme recognises archery, athletics, cricket, equestrian, karate, gymnastics, motorsport, Gaelic football, hurling, camogie, rugby and others.
At NUIG, 66 students are on sports scholarships - including the 'Performance Points Scholarship' and the 'Elite Sports Scholarship'. Of these 47 are male while just 19 are female. The latest batch of sports scholarships went to 18 males and 11 females.
At UL, a number of clubs and campus organisations offer scholarships to high performance athletes. They consist of a grant, expenses for training, and in some cases gym and pool memberships and accommodation waivers. This year UL GAA offered 38 scholarships sponsored by the Bank of Ireland - 25 to males and 13 to females.
A spokesperson for the college said: "There are no set numbers of male or female scholarships but athletes in all sports compete against each other on relevant criteria to their sport. Terms and conditions for sports vary as they are all different organisations offering the scholarships."
However, former Irish rugby star Fiona Steed believes a key element in the discrepancies is that more sponsorship and other revenue streams are made available to male sports clubs. But she said that this "still doesn't make it right".
"In some places there are less than half female GAA scholarships, and GAA is bread and butter in Ireland as a sport. Inter-county players at underage level would be training and playing to the required standard to be the best in their age group so I find that disappointing and surprising," she said.
"The whole inequality is that businesses need to get behind women in sport before they do the job to enable them to do the job."
Last year, a total of 61 sports scholarships were awarded across 15 sports at Trinity College. Of these, 46 went to male students and 15 went to females, including to four hockey players, three basketball players, three rowers and a swimmer.
A breakdown of the men's scholarships reveal that 30 were awarded in rugby, six in GAA, five in hockey, two in kayaking, and one each in badminton, waterpolo and sailing. Despite TCD being home to a highly competitive women's rugby side, no women were awarded a sports scholarship.
At Maynooth University, 59 male students and 13 female students were named as sports scholars. Of these, 28 are male rugby players. Although Maynooth also has a successful women's rugby team, there are currently no female rugby players on a sports scholarship.
Scholarship officers at both colleges were not available to comment on these statistics.
Former Ireland rugby captain Fiona Coghlan said the findings reflect what is happening in women's sports in general. "It's at every level when you look at how female sport compares with men's and money coming into men's sport at every level. They get more money and that's obviously the same in college," she said.
However, she added that the awarding of sports scholarship also depends on the number of high-level athletes applying for them.
"Girls often don't know about scholarships they could apply for and so they don't apply," said the PE and maths teacher. "I teach girls and I know some of them wouldn't put themselves forward for a camogie scholarship even though they are playing county at the top of their game - they wouldn't necessarily go and seek it because it's not the norm.
"I very much doubt any girl with a rugby background would think she is capable or that there is even an option of a rugby scholarship there for her."
This year at UCD around 140 scholarships were made available through their Elite Athlete Academy and the UCD clubs scholarships and the college says the breakdown was 60-40.
"Less female sports clubs have resources to support sports scholarships," said a spokesperson for the college. "Men's rugby, GAA football, hurling and soccer offer more than the female equivalent. Men's rowing annually set aside €3,000-€5,000 for scholarships and woman's rowing do not have the resources to do this."
Meanwhile, in DCU, 71 male students and 64 female students were awarded sports scholarships last year.
Aoife Lane, chairperson of the WGPA praised DCU, UL and WIT for offering new scholarship opportunities for elite camogie players and ladies' footballers. However, she said funding remains a challenge. "All student members of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) receive a scholarship whereas the WGPA only had resources to award 16 scholarships in 2015," she said. "It is an imbalance we hope to work on while also supporting and encouraging our members to apply for scholarships within their own institutes."
Meanwhile, Student Sport Ireland, the governing body of third level sport here, said the number of sports scholarships awarded seem to reflect the gap in participation levels of females compared to males. The SSI, which has no role in awarding sports scholarships in third level colleges and universities, says the findings are a direct result of the significant dropout rates among girls during their teenage years.
"This gap is felt more keenly in team sports where there are more limited opportunities for females to participate in at a high performance level. However, recent developments in GAA, soccer and rugby will help in closing this gap," said a spokesperson.
The SSI claims that the number of female applicants is also believed to be considerably lower compared to that of male applicants, saying: "The key to increasing female participation in sport is clearly reducing the number of girls that drop out of their sport during their teenage years."
Sunday Indo Sport