Sport International Soccer

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Comment: Women deserve support in their Saipan moment

Hard to believe elite team has been forced into strike threat

Captain Emma Byrne with some of her international team-mates at Liberty Hall. Photo:
CODY GLENN/SPORTSFILE
Captain Emma Byrne with some of her international team-mates at Liberty Hall. Photo: CODY GLENN/SPORTSFILE
Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

Zurich 2015: Stephanie Roche struts past Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi at the Ballon d'Or ceremony after being shortlisted for the Puskas Goal of the Year award. The image goes viral, she's an international star.

Dublin 2017: Stephanie Roche tells a room full of reporters what it feels like to fly back into Dublin Airport after international duty, go into the public toilets and change out of her team tracksuit so she can hand it back to the FAI.

A new image of Stephanie Roche comes to mind. It's a far cry from her pink Helen Cody dress on one of the biggest nights in world football.

The last time we had an image like that was when it became known that, when at training, Katie Taylor had to go to a pub to use the bathroom as there was none in her gym.

Strip

And before that it was in 1996 when Sonia O'Sullivan was forced to strip out of her gear on the side of a track at the Olympic Games in Atlanta because of a row over sponsors. These scenarios have not gone away.

Yesterday 14 members of the Republic of Ireland's women's international squad stood shoulder to shoulder in Liberty Hall to fight for the future of their game.

What a symbolic gesture it was that these elite female athletes chose this particular venue to take their stand against authority.

As they outlined the obstacles they face just to represent their country, the room full of journalists fell silent, clearly shocked at the litany of charges being made against the FAI.

Read more: ‘This is the Roy Keane moment for the women’s team’ -  PFAI representative compares women’s situation to Saipan

It was a powerful and defining moment and one that will be hard to forget. It was, said their representative and PFAI solicitor Stuart Gilhooly, women's football's Saipan moment.

Except this wasn't a one-man show - this was an entire squad.

It's hard to believe we live in a time where these women needed to address their grievances in public. That they had to put themselves in this situation.

But we do because, for all the rhetoric about women in sport, we are still a long way off where we should be.

Liberty Hall yesterday was clearly a place the players didn't want to be, dressed in their civvies talking about their worst days.

Each and every player wore the emotion on their faces, their voices cracked and their shoulders hunched.

The strain was visible, too. At every juncture, they stressed how important their sport is to them. They want to compete at the top level; they want to be better.

Like the Cork hurlers once upon a time, it was hard to believe that the issues being highlighted were issues at all - so basic are there in modern-day sport.

Sharing tracksuits? Having to take holidays from work so they can play for their country? Are we really still stuck in this world?

The fact that the FAI have released such a strongly-worded statement suggests at the very least we have a serious breakdown of communication between one of our elite national teams and its governing body.

Or, at the worst, relations have soured so much that we face the prospect of a national team going on strike.

Curious

It is also curious that the FAI pointed the finger at Sport Ireland and the government.

By coincidence, Sport Ireland will this afternoon announce its women in sport funding for 2017 and will presumably now face questions.

Read more: 'Refusing to play for Ireland will not help the players' reputations' - FAI high performance director Ruud Dokter

We shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking this is a problem exclusive to women's football; females who play sport all over the country have plenty of similar tales to tell.

The team are due to train this evening, and are scheduled to play Slovakia next Monday.

On the pitch in green jerseys is where we want to see our best women's players but until then we have to support them off it.

They are doing a brave thing and that's the only way change will come.

Players key demands

  • Access to a nutritionist, and individual strength and conditioning programmes.
  • Gym membership for entire squad.
  • Hotel accommodation to include at the very least working and reliable Wi-Fi.
  • Apparel for travelling to be provided to the players prior to meeting up at airport.
  • More home-based training sessions.
  • All non-professional players to receive loss of earnings documented by their employers.
  • Goalkeeper coach to remain for campaign, not change from game to game.
  • Match fee for all international fixtures of €300.
  • Bonus for competitive fixtures of €150 per win and €75 per draw.
  • Qualification bonus to be agreed with team captain and player representatives at least four weeks prior to start of qualification campaign.

Irish Independent

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