The Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, got delayed in the Dáil because proceedings ran over time. If he is not on the call - I do not think he is - I will have to ask members to allow us to suspend the meeting until he is with us. We will suspend for the shortest time possible and reconvene when he is on the line.
Challenges facing Women in Sport: Discussion
I thank members for their patience.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make her or him identifiable. I would like to remind members again of the constitutional requirements that members must be physically present within the confines of Leinster House in order to participate in the public meeting. I will not permit a member to attend where he or she is not adhering to that constitutional requirement.
I also ask members to please identify themselves when contributing for the benefit of the Debates Office staff preparing the Official Report and to please mute their microphones when not contributing in order to reduce the background noise and feedback or, better again, switch them off. I remind members to please use the raise hand button when they want to make a contribution and I remind all of those joining today's meeting to ensure that their mobiles are switched off. I invite the Minister of State to make his opening statement, which will be limited to five minutes.
Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an gcoiste as ucht a chuireadh teacht anseo inniu. I thank the committee for the invitation to appear before it to discuss this important topic and for the opportunity to outline some of the actions the Government is taking to address the challenges facing women in sport. The committee has done some important work in facilitating progress in this area. I acknowledge that at the outset.
Equality in sport is a key priority for the Government. Our overall vision is for women to have an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential while enjoying a lifelong involvement in sport. The programme for Government and the national sports policy are unequivocal in their commitment to making this a reality. Making progress in this area is something I am personally committed to and passionate about. It has been a focus for me throughout the past 12 months.
This year has been dominated, as we know, by amazing moments for women's sport. They include Rachel Blackmore's historic Aintree win, Leona Maguire's performance at the Solheim Cup, Kelly Harrington's homecoming, Fionnuala McCormack's second fastest ever marathon time, the biggest ever victory for the women's football team, Amy Hunter becoming the youngest ever batter to hit a century, Emma Slevin becoming the first Irish gymnast to qualify for the all-around finals of the world gymnastics championships and, as we all know, the battle between Dublin and Meath in Croke Park during the summer. All of those moments are inspiring the next generation of women and girls to take up sport, get out and get active and be the next generation of sporting heroes who will inspire us in the years and decades ahead.
We are prioritising the growth in grassroots participation all the way through to high performance via the sporting system, including Sport Ireland, the national governing bodies, local sports partnerships and the Federation of Irish Sport, all of which are contributing to the increase in the number of women and girls taking part in sport. For the information of the committee, I intend to provide a brief update on funding, participation and women's participation in leadership positions. I intend to touch specifically on Gaelic players and on women's rugby.
As members will be aware, the women in sport funding programme has been in place since 2005. Since then, more than €20 million has been invested through the national governing bodies of sport and local sports partnerships around the country. In 2018, funding under the women in sport programme was €600,000. It has increased significantly and Sport Ireland announced investment of €4 million for 2021 and 2022. This investment is having an impact across the sporting system, with 45 sporting organisations set to receive funding under this investment. A further €265,000 has been invested this year in local sports partnerships under the programme. These increases are in the context of an increase in funding for Sport Ireland in the budget for 2022, bringing its total current expenditure budget to more than €96 million compared with €92 million for 2021. This will enable Sport Ireland to continue to support governing bodies and local sports partnerships in delivering programmes for all participants, male and female.
One of the key aims of the national sports policy is to eliminate the gender participation gap in sport support entirely by 2027. The 2019 Irish Sports Monitor, ISM, report showed that the gender gap in sports participation was 3.4%, narrower than at any point over the past ten years. Unfortunately, while the ISM report for the first quarter of 2021 showed that the gender gap was eliminated during the Covid-19 restrictions, the latest ISM figures for quarter 3 showed that the gender gap was beginning to re-emerge as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. In quarter 3 of 2021, male sport participation had returned to pre-pandemic levels, at 48%, while female participation was 38%, 7% behind the level measured in 2019.
The emerging gradient is a cause for focus, concern and ongoing monitoring. It is now crucial that we move to ensure that the gap is narrowed and closed. To this end, many governing bodies will begin to deliver women in sport in dormant accounts funding programmes this winter which will actively target populations that have disproportionately been impacted by the pandemic, including females, economically and socially disadvantaged communities, people with a disability and ethnic minorities. These targeted activities will form part of a winter initiative for sport to kickstart participation following the reduction in restrictions. The funding provided by the Government and increased participation we are seeking to support will need to be backed by progress at the leadership level. We recognise the importance of ensuring strong gender representation on the boards of governing bodies.
Research in this area consistently shows that balanced boards lead to better outcomes and we need to ensure that this happens in sports. The national sports policy set a target of 30% of either gender on the boards of funded bodies by 2027. In the new action plan for sport I have strengthened that target and we are asking all governing bodies to achieve 40% gender representation on their boards by the end of 2023. It is a particular priority for me to enable women to take more leadership positions in sport and the figure of 40% reflects this prioritisation. I firmly believe that the leadership of sporting organisations needs to reflect their growing female membership.
One of my priorities this year was to eliminate the funding gap that exists in grant funding for male and female Gaelic players. I am very pleased to have achieved that aim and ensure that we now have parity in grant funding. Additional funding of €1.7 million has been provided this year, and for future years, for enhanced support for female intercounty Gaelic games players on an equivalent basis to that being provided to their male counterparts. This additional provision brings the total amount available for female players in this context to €2.4 million. This is a very important development for women's sport and demonstrates the commitment of the Government to equality in sport.
As I am sure the committee members are aware, on Friday the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, and I received a letter from 59 female international rugby players, both currently active and retired, regarding issues they have with the IRFU. We have responded to the group to advise that a meeting will be sought with the IRFU, and Sport Ireland will also meet the players to discuss the issues raised. That meeting will take place before Christmas. The Minister and I have indicated that we are also happy to meet the players should that be needed and we hope to be able to do that in the next week or so. We will also provide any assistance or guidance that will help to address the issues raised. Sport Ireland has a particular expertise in working with national governing bodies and high-performance athletes and it will work with the players and IRFU to address the issues that have been raised.
Equality in sport is a key priority for the Government. We want to achieve a sporting landscape where women have an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential while enjoying a lifelong involvement in sport. While there has been good progress for women in sport, there are still many challenges that need to be addressed. My officials and I continue to work closely with Sport Ireland and the sports sector with a view to achieving a much improved landscape for women and girls in sport. I am happy to take any questions from members. I thank the Chair.
I thank the Minister of State for his very comprehensive statement. It is now the turn of my colleagues. I remind members that they have five minutes each for questions and answers. The rota for questions has been circulated.
I thank the Chair and welcome the Minister of State. I am glad he did not forget the Meath women in the list of accomplishments he rattled off. He could not congratulate them at the end. I note that six of the eight nominees for sportsperson of the year in Ireland in the RTÉ awards on Saturday are leading female athletes and footballers from across the country. That is noteworthy. I hope the judging panel do the right thing and pick Vikki Wall, our Meath full forward, for the award.
I thank the Minister of State for his remarks in respect of the €2.4 million for Ladies GAA. We met him earlier this year and said he was committed to it, and he has delivered on that. Plenty has been written and spoken about women's sport in the past 24 hours, in particular the game of women's rugby
I hope that all those people who are tweeting about this bother their asses to come out and support some of these games. If they do, we will have a full Aviva Stadium and Croke Park for all of these games. I hope that all the Twitter bots bother to come to support the games in person. In respect of the controversy that has blown up, what was most disappointing was the IRFU's response that it refuted the tenor of the statement by the people who signed the letter. One person who signed that letter is Lynne Cantwell, a Rolestown native I interviewed in my days as a sports journalist. I know her character and she did not do that lightly. How far will this meeting with the IRFU go? The Minister of State and the Government committed significant Covid support funding, of €18 million, to the IRFU on Monday. Will he threaten to withhold some of that funding from the IRFU if it is not willing to display the necessary changes that are being demanded by these international players?
I thank the Senator. Before I answer his question, I congratulate the Meath ladies. It was fantastic to see a team go from intermediate all the way to senior and winning the All-Ireland. They beat the Dublin ladies, who have had great success in recent years.
We will engage in a frank and comprehensive way with the IRFU about the issues that have been raised by the players. They have shown tremendous leadership not only as players representing the country, but also in trying to grow women's rugby over recent years. I absolutely respect and take extremely seriously what they have set out to us. We have sought to fully engage with the IRFU and reflect all the issues it has raised. We have asked Sport Ireland to engage with the players about providing assistance and guidance. We are willing to meet the players ourselves. I was disappointed with some of the remarks made in the statement from the IRFU. It could have been more conciliatory in its approach. I will reflect that when I meet them. We need to be solution-focused. We need to have a constructive pathway that deals with the issues raised by the players. That is what I am focused on doing now. I have engaged with all parties. We have involved Sport Ireland, which played an important role in providing a solution and has much expertise in resolving difficulties between and within sporting organisations. It has an important role to play here.
My time is running down. The language used by the IRFU is quite hostile. It stated that the responsible approach would be to allow the review process to conclude, but the ethos and the thrust of the demands in the statement from the players was that they had no confidence in the reviews to begin with. We saw that governance change only happened in the FAI when money was withheld in the last term and it was starved of funding. Will that be put on the table? The IRFU and the women's game is part of that. Will it be said to them that, if governance changes within this sport do not happen, the generous supports that it gets from the State will be withheld?
I will not pre-empt the discussions that we will have with the IRFU, the players and everyone involved. I think the statement should have been more conciliatory. I do not think it was helpful in the context of trying to resolve the issues raised. I will not pre-empt the discussions. We will engage in a robust and frank way with the IRFU to reflect on the issues and to focus on resolving the matters raised by the players to their satisfaction.
Chief among them was a demand for the Minister of State to ensure that the oversight of the ongoing reviews would be transparent and maintain their independence. The IRFU has full confidence in its own reviews but the players do not. How will the Minister of State make sure that is achieved to the players' satisfaction? If the IRFU stands firm against that transparency, what is the position of the Minister of State and Government in respect of that?
We will engage with the IRFU, as I said.
We are way over time.
We will reflect the issues it has raised. We have involved Sport Ireland in this. It has played an important role in the oversight of Government bodies and the State's interface with all NGBs. As the Senator said, it has experience in dealing with similar issues in other sporting organisations in the past. It will have an important role here too. We are trying to engage properly and quickly with the IRFU and the players. We will not pre-empt the outcome of that. I hope we will have a constructive process and be able to reflect what has been raised by the players in a proper and substantial way.
Does the Minister of State accept-----
No, I am sorry, Senator Cassells.
-----that the players have stated that they have no faith that-----
Senator Cassells has gone way over time.
-----significant change will occur as a result of this?
We have gone way over time. I have to move on.
I welcome the Minister of State to the committee. I thank him for all his work to date and for the funding announcement this week. Regarding the €22 million invested through the Women in Sport programme, the NGBs and the local sport partnerships, does the Minister of State feel that this is value for money based on the current trends of gender participation rates? Can he outline what improvements he hopes to make over the term of this roll-out?
I thank the Deputy. The €4 million fund is extremely important. It is research-focused and targeted at trying to bridge the participation gap. That is one element of what we have sought to do regarding women in sport. When it comes to high-performance sport, we have provided substantial funding streams. From that perspective, it is easier to avail of the new sports capital and equipment programme. We have provided specific reference in the assessment process to those targeting female participation. There is a multiplicity of interventions. The €4 million fund focuses on participation. The Dormant Accounts Fund focuses on all of the participation gaps. Female participation is one. Those with disabilities and minorities are other examples.
Sport Ireland has taken strong actions. We have a lead for Women in Sport. We have sought to strengthen the funding support for the programme and to ensure that, at a governance and leadership level, sporting organisations are reflective of their grassroots. The Deputy knows from his sporting background that if one goes to any local club in any community, there is phenomenal growth of female participation at a grassroots level. It is often 50:50. There is attrition, which I know Sport Ireland is focused on, especially in teenage years, that can create a gender gap in participation. Many of the initiatives we have in the Women in Sport programme are focused on areas where there is attrition or where there is not the same level of participation. All of our policy and funding streams focus on supporting female participation in sport.
I will focus on the most recent announcement of €20 million being allocated to the GAA as part of a Covid supplementary fund. What proportion of that is allocated to the Ladies' Gaelic Football Association, the Camogie Association or GAA Handball? I would like to hear the Minister of State's thoughts on this. I feel that the one-club model should now become the blueprint for men and women's sports. Has he had any discussion to date with the NGBs associated with these codes? I know certain GAA clubs are adopting a one-club model at present but unless we have unification of men and women under one banner, where decision-making and handling is done at one central committee, there will still be an issue of equality for the women's game.
This is certainly an area on which the Department should focus.
I fully agree that the one-club model is the future when it comes to the Gaelic games family. We saw certain incidents during the summer around certain teams not being able to use facilities or stadia. That is at the inter-county level but certainly the one-club model is the future. There should be no difference or distinction within any family. There will be much greater participation and growth in the sport. I support that. Many people in the grassroots Gaelic games family also support that. We are seeing positive conversations happening within Gaelic games at a grassroots level. The three organisations - the GAA and the camogie and ladies' football associations - will need to collaborate on this concept at a leadership level. I certainly support it and would like to see it progressed. It will do an awful lot to end some of the difficulties and incidences we have seen. Significant co-operation is happening at local level when it comes to Gaelic games. In fairness, the sporting organisations are co-operating across a lot of participation areas.
I agree with Senator Cassells's critique of the response of the IRFU. It was absolutely dismissive in tone and did not help the situation. In his briefing document, the Minister of State outlined that 45 NGBs would receive funding as part of the investment in women's sport. Is it possible to get a breakdown of this list to see where the money went and how much went to each NGB? Does he think State-funded media like RTÉ have an obligation to promote women's sport more? Could he stipulate that in order to receive State funding, it must promote women's sports more? He outlined that additional funding of €1.7 million has been provided this year to increase the grant funding for female Gaelic games players. Could he provide a breakdown of this funding?
I share Deputy Mythen's concerns. It would have been better to have had a more conciliatory statement at the outset. We will be engaging properly on the issue relating to women's rugby. We have a list of the breakdown of allocations that we can send to the committee. I have a full breakdown that we will submit to the committee so members will have all the detail on it.
The media has a hugely important role when it comes to women in sport. In fairness, we have seen greater visibility in the past couple of years but there is an awful lot more to do. I know one of the key areas in our women in sport policy is visibility being referenced around trying to ensure we have a women in sport communications plan and we promote the visibility of all women's sport throughout our media, both print and broadcast. The Minister leads on the media side of the Department but she is anxious to make progress regarding all equality issues. RTÉ has stepped up by showing some of the Irish women's football games. I know TG4 has played a really important role as well in promoting women's sport over the past number of years but there is more to do here and it is something we keep on the agenda. I know that Sport Ireland's lead for women in sport is constantly engaged on that and on strengthening visibility.
Regarding the question about Gaelic games players, the GPA has amalgamated in the past 12 months, which is really positive. Male and female players working together in the interests of the Gaelic games family is a very positive development. They are working with Sport Ireland on the dispersal of the grants for players. I can give the Deputy more detail on that. We have equality around the grant. There is €2.4 million for female players, which is the equivalent to the amount allocated to male players. Once we made that decision, Sport Ireland engaged with the GPA, the LGFA and the Camogie Association around having an agreed dispersal model. A report was produced that outlined some of the background to that area that Sport Ireland progressed. It has a dispersal structure with the GPA and the other two sporting organisations and there is an agreed process regarding how that is dispersed that is progressing.
I will focus on the Minister of State's proposal to increase the number of women members of governing bodies of the NGBs. I welcome the initiatives the Minister of State has set out. He has set out a two-year target to reach the 40% target. Is he confident that every NGB will reach this target? Will he proceed as indicated and will there be penalties for those NGBs that do not reach it? I do not know if there are any specific governing bodies the Minister of State might like to praise in this context. Would he like to talk about initiatives he has seen where governing bodies have been quite positive in terms of achieving those targets?
A major challenge that is regularly raised is around encouraging teenage girls to participate in sport. The Minister of State knows that we are looking at leaving certificate reform. Are there specific initiatives in terms of what we could do as part of leaving certificate reform and school curricular reform to encourage more young girls to take part in sport? I was very conscious that Sarah Keane remarked recently how girls' uniforms can even be inhibitive factors in terms of girls' participation in sport.
I will signal on the issue around women's rugby. It has been noted that the Minister and the Minister of State intervened rather quickly in the area of women's rugby when very legitimate concerns were raised yet there was a caution about the Minister of State intervening with some of the problems in boxing and offering to ensure there was a mediator. There have been a number of problems with the Irish Athletic Boxing Association. Could the Minister of State comment on that?
Regarding our new proposals in the sport action plan, we are ambitious about hitting the 40% target. It is a minimum now around progress when it comes to sporting organisations reflecting broader society but also reflecting their grassroots. With Sport Ireland's women in sport lead and the excellent work of the Federation of Irish Sport, and I know the committee will speak to Mary O'Connor later on, there is significant momentum to provide that leadership support so we achieve that target. As I have said before, there will be financial consequences and penalties for those organisations that do not meet the target. A number of sporting organisations such as Badminton Ireland, Golf Ireland, Gymnastics Ireland, the National Community Games, Special Olympics Ireland, Student Sport Ireland, Swim Ireland, the Olympic Federation of Ireland, Hockey Ireland and the LGFA along with Sport Ireland itself have already hit the target. I could go on. There are organisations that have already made progress, there are some that have made progress to around 30% and there are some that are way off. Soft targets without consequences will not stand anymore.
We want to support the grassroots and the performance system but it is important as organisations that they reflect the people they serve. We will be proceeding with that. We have had soft targets now for a number of years which has resulted in some progress but not enough so I am keen to progress that.
Around the Sports Action Plan 2021-2023 we have sought greater engagement with our education system and the Senator makes a fair point there. There is a level of attrition that happens in teenage years which we need to minimise. On 8 March, Sport Ireland released the Adolescent Girls Get Active research report which focused on that whole area and on how disengagement happens around sport and exercise. That qualitative research is being used to try to bridge the participation and to address the attrition, particularly around the teenage years. We are keen to engage structurally with the Department of Education on that whole area in how we can do much more between sport and education. That is something that is in our sport action plan and on which we will be doing more in the new year.
On the issue of boxing, I know that the Senator may have commented on this in the Seanad yesterday. I am aware of the ongoing issues and I am very concerned with the impact that they are having. There is great concern across many of the clubs and provinces with the effect and impact that the dispute at the governing body is having on grassroots participation in boxing. I engaged on this issue and wrote to the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, IABA, on 3 December expressing my great concern and I have asked it to make every effort working within the wider boxing family to resolve these issues as quickly as possible. It is also important to say, unlike where we are with women’s rugby and the issue which has happened in the past number of days, that we have an independent governance review under way within the IABA, which is important, and was commissioned by Sport Ireland. This is expected to report shortly. There is a structure and process under way to resolve some of the issues and the IABA has been engaging with Sport Ireland on these issues.
As the Senator may be aware, there is a mediation and dispute resolution process under way among some of the members involved in this dispute in boxing and there are therefore two structured processes ongoing around boxing.
I was totally dissatisfied to be contacted by clubs and younger people who wanted to engage in grassroots ordinary competition and the impact of the governing body in displacing ordinary competition is unacceptable and should not happen. I reflected that in my letter to the IABA on 3 December. I wish to state that I have engaged on this issue prior to the Senator raising it himself.
That may not have been in the public domain before now but I did.
I welcome that from the Minister of State because my concern is not about the politics inside the IABA but about the danger that we could be losing the next Kellie Harrington or Katie Taylor. It is young people who are suffering. Women’s boxing has been a great success but there are young women and men who are losing out as a result of what has been happening. I will if I may-----
I am going to have to call it a day for Senator Byrne, and I apologise, as he is way over time again, if that is okay. We may get a second round in. I call Deputy Christopher O’Sullivan and he has five minutes.
I thank the Chairman. This is more a commentary than questions as most of the questions have already been asked. I wish to make a comment on female participation and women sports in Ireland. Despite the recent success of such athletes as Kellie Harrington in the Olympics and Emily Hegarty in west Cork, who secured a bronze medal in rowing, and despite the fact that female athletes in Ireland have generally excelled and are among our most revered athletes, such as Sonia O'Sullivan and Katie Taylor, it appears to me that the culture of participation by females in Irish sport is far lower than it should be and there is far less participation and encouragement. It may be far more difficult for them than for many of our European counterparts where there is much more of a culture of females, and young females in particular, getting involved in sports. One can see that through looking at athletics, and tennis would be a very good example, where both male and female athletes are treated on a par. The same can also be said for winter sports which receive the same media coverage and audiences, whether it is skiing, cross-country skiing or biathlon. The top female skiers are held in the same regard as the top male skiers, if that makes sense. That is not happening in Ireland.
I appreciate that the Minister of State’s focus so far has been very clear on inclusion, inclusivity and in particular in trying to make participation by female athletes easier. That is the clear stamp that the Minister of State with responsibility for sport has put on his role. I commend him for that. Even in the ongoing capital sports grants projects it is important that in order for clubs to qualify, they must demonstrate that they are striving to get women involved.
Returning to the Irish Rugby Football Union, IRFU, letter, my sister - if the Chairman may allow me to speak personally for a second - competed for Ireland in the 2006 Women's Rugby World Cup in Canada. That was prior to any of Ireland's Women's Six Nations success where they have become one of the top nations but she was there from the very start and it has been a struggle from the start. Many of the signatories of the letter would have experienced where it has been a struggle and a battle for funding and proper resources and equilibrium in terms of the men’s game right from the very start. I completely understand the sentiment in their letter and it deserves a proper response, to be treated with the greatest of care and very seriously. I know that the Minister of State has stated that a meeting will be arranged and it is very important that that meeting happens, that there is a fair outcome and that we listen in all of these things. Players or ex-players just do not write these letters or make these points lightly and are doing so because they see fundamental issues. One can see this for oneself. The sister that I have spoken about came up through Clonakilty Rugby Football Club which had a great underage and senior girls rugby team feeding into Munster. I have seen right across Ireland that there are clubs where the same emphasis is certainly not there and the IRFU has a responsibility to ensure that that is there. I would ask that the Minister of State might comment further on that.
The point I wish to make in the second session later is where we talk about the barriers to teenage girls, in particular, participating for whatever reason, and even into the adult ages because of these issues. How much do we know about childcare, the lack of same and the difficulty in childcare provision being a barrier to women continuing in sport? That is my only direct question but the rest is just my commentary. Again I say “hats off” for the Trojan efforts being made to try to address this imbalance and inequality.
I thank Deputy O’Sullivan and I appreciate the comments and his questions as well.
On the whole area of participation, we have seen significant progress at grassroots level. This is something that I have seen as someone who has grown up playing and participating in sports when I go down to all of the local clubs now versus when I was playing myself at a younger age. We are seeing many clubs now where there is nearly equal numbers of boys and girls playing and participating and it is about sustaining that and limiting the attrition that happens right into adulthood when something of a gap occurs. We have for example - I understand where the Deputy has mentioned adults - sought to address this through the Women in Sport programmes which look at participation and focus on the teenage years. If one looks at the funding announced earlier this week, we have a focus on older adults as well and how we can get people active. It may not only be participation in sport.
It could be basic exercise as well, or more general activity. It is not only about formal sporting activity but how we can encourage people to get active. We have good co-operation with Healthy Ireland and the Department of Health on that and on how to get people to encourage their own individual exercise, which is very important.
The Deputy referenced childcare. It has to be a barrier, especially for people in particular cycles of their lives and if they have a number of kids of a young age, I am sure it is extremely difficult when they are working. Sport Ireland has a new maternity policy for carded athletes, which ensures 12 months of funding for them when having a baby. That is just one aspect at a performance level which has worked, but I know childcare is a barrier at a grassroots and community level. I am sure Sport Ireland will be able to give further detail on the research related to that.
I take the Deputy's point on the women players and I know of his sister's involvement a number of years ago with the team. They have shown great leadership around growing the game over many years. That is why we take what they have said extremely seriously and why we will engage in a proper way. One thing I would say is I have noticed from meeting many rugby clubs is that they are developing. Many more girls are playing rugby now and many initiatives are happening on the ground. I have had feedback from and engagement with many clubs that are trying to do that and many more girls are playing rugby. However, where one has concerns articulated like this at a national level, that will have an inevitable impact on the perception of the game at a grassroots level as well.
I thank the Minister of State for coming before the committee today. I know he is a sportsperson and glad to see the Dublin ladies' team and other women participating in sport. I have been involved in sport all my life and have trained and managed ladies' and men's football teams. In the Minister of State's introduction, he mentioned all the elite athletes doing very well in horse riding, golf, boxing, athletics, soccer, rugby, GAA, gymnastics and others.
However, the biggest problem at present, especially at grassroots level, is facilities. If one goes to any club, all the facilities are geared towards men. Despite so many women participating in sport over the past number of years, none of these clubs have increased their facilities. I know when one takes a ladies' team to play a game of football, basically, the men's team is getting the first advantage. We need to put a foundation in place and get the facilities and equipment in place.
I know the ladies' GAA has been given €2.4 million. It is a considerable sum of money but if we want to increase and get the gap closed, it is important we start working with the grassroots clubs. I have two daughters who are involved in sports. The main complaint they have is that no matter where they go to play a game of football or go on a run, they always have to come back home to the house to change their clothes. That could be a journey of 45 or 50 minutes. It all depends on the weather and whether it is raining or snowing that day. All the facilities seem to be geared towards men.
Years ago, when I was on the sports committee, I always mentioned New Zealand. It has approximately the same population and is approximately the same size as Ireland, but New Zealand seems to excel in all international sports, both men and women. Maybe we should have a look at and talk to New Zealand. It always seems to do very well in the Olympics.
Do not get me wrong, it is fantastic to see all of our ladies doing very well. However, that is glossing over the situation. The Minister of State should talk to the main sporting organisations, if he can. I hope that in the coming years, the ladies' and men's GAA clubs might come together. The Minister of State got a fantastic result a couple of weeks ago in terms of what has done with soccer to make everything in parity between the women and men. We have to make it interesting for women and men to come together. What are the Minister of State, the Department and the major sporting organisations doing to help get the facilities ready to entice more women into our sports?
I acknowledge Deputy Fitzpatrick's sporting background and his huge involvement over many years in Louth and beyond. He made a very fair point. The facilities are certainly a challenge to female participation. I saw that from engaging with many clubs and those involved in women's sport. To try to respond to that directly, in the assessment process for the sports capital and equipment programme this year, the allocations of which we hope to announce in mid-January, there is a direct reference to female participation and to a club's involvement in female participation in sport. That will have a big impact on the dispersal of allocations that happens in January. I am very conscious of the need to accelerate the improvement of facilities.
People will find that when we announce these sports capital grants, there will be a significant step change in the investment that the Government and the State makes in sporting infrastructure. That will have a really positive benefit for sporting clubs, the grassroots. Many clubs, in their current applications, are actually trying to do the things the Deputy referenced by expanding their changing rooms and facilities to try to deal with the issues he mentioned. That has to be a big priority for clubs that want to be inclusive and to reflect their own communities. We want to reward those who are doing that, which is why we have referenced it in the assessment process for the sports capital and equipment programme.
The Deputy referenced New Zealand and he is correct in saying it has made great progress on this in recent years. If the Deputy looks at the high performance strategy I launched in the summer, we referenced two countries as models we are trying to emulate, namely, New Zealand and Denmark. Both their sporting systems and the investment they have made from an infrastructural perspective have brought them great progress in general and in overall participation but they have also seen the fruit of that success internationally. There was considerable reference to New Zealand in the briefing I received and there is an acknowledgement that is an important comparator when it comes to our ambitions for sport and female participation.
As I noted earlier to Deputy Dillon, the one club model and greater co-operation are very important, especially in the Gaelic games family. Clubs that have progressed that have seen the benefits of it when it comes to female participation. People throughout GAA, ladies' football and camogie are trying to do that at a local level and I hope we will see more co-operation at a national level. In fairness, there is better sharing of facilities but we need to avoid instances such as those we saw during the summer, which were not good for the overall participation and the availability of facilities.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, and echo the comments of Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan to compliment him on the way he has taken on the brief and put participation top of the agenda as part of the national sports policy that was recently announced and as part of the programme of Government to increase that. I think back to the 2020 campaign which ran for a number of years. That was a very successful model to highlight participation, not just in the game, but the attendances and to improve the amount of media exposure of it. We should look at some sort of campaign like that again to make sure we close that gender gap completely, but also further increase the media exposure and attendances.
What is the Minister of State's view on that? Could that campaign be reignited? Doing so would be very positive as it was a high-profile campaign. I fully agree with the one club model. Coming from a GAA family, I think it is definitely the way to go.
Senator Malcolm Byrne mentioned the IABA. That is something we need to look at. When issues like this arise, what is the process for dealing with them? A review of the IABA is taking place at present, which came from our committee, highlighting issues within it. Following on from the issues with ladies' rugby, should we set up some sort of a reporting mechanism through the Federation of Irish Sport in order that groups can air their concerns? A conciliation process could be set up as part of that. Any review by any sporting organisation that is being funded by the Government should be made public or should be forwarded to the Federation of Irish Sport. In the letter from the ladies' rugby players, one of the concerns they highlighted was that that report would not be made public.
I acknowledge all the Senator's points. The 20x20 campaign was successful and brought so many different groups, organisations and the media together. It was a great success and we recently discussed it with the Federation of Irish Sport. The campaign was run for a particular point in time but there may be scope for doing a new campaign, as the Senator suggested. I am open to doing anything to improve and strengthen the visibility of women's sport. A key focus of our women in sport policy is to strengthen that and I will support any measures in that regard. Sport Ireland's leads are constantly focused on visibility as a key pillar of their overall strategy. We are very much open to any campaign and will support any campaign around the area of visibility. It is very important.
The Senator raised the issue of boxing. As I said to Senator Malcolm Byrne, I wrote to the IABA on 3 December expressing my concern and asking it to resolve the issues as quickly as possible. Separately, there is the independent governance review and a dispute resolution process is under way among the individuals involved. That is the current update on that matter.
There is also a sport dispute solutions structure that offers mediation and arbitration within organisations to try to resolve issues within sport. That is independent. This is something in which Sport Ireland has expertise when it comes to issues that are raised within sporting organisations. Many disputes have gone through that process. The most important thing is ensuring matters are resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved and that there is a constructive pathway forward.
The Senator mentioned issues around what is made public. As I said, Sport Ireland is always available when concerns are raised and it regularly deals with matters that are raised by people within sport. There are dispute resolution processes there. Sport Ireland will be able to give further detail on that. If something specific is sensitive, it may not be published but that depends on each individual matter that might be brought to the attention of Sport Ireland.
That is something I might bring up at the next meeting. Any review that is carried out by organisations and funded by taxpayers' money needs to be made publicly known. How are we going to move on or make improvements in sport if we do not know what issues are highlighted in those reports? I thank the Minister of State.
The committee wrote to the Minister of State in April of this year asking him to conduct a full review of funding for women in sport. It also asked that a task force be established to consider matters relating to women in sport. Did he ever do that? If not, what was the reason?
We have such a structure in place already. There is a women in sport lead within Sport Ireland, as well as a women in sport group that deals with these issues. It is focused on four main areas, namely, leadership and governance; visibility; coaching and officiating; and active participation. Many of the sporting organisations are also appointing directors of women in sport for their own sports as well. There is a structure within Sport Ireland that is specifically focused on driving participation and addressing issues around leadership and governance. My singular focus, whether for clubs or national sporting organisations, is on strengthening the area of women's sport and that is something with which we engage regularly. We have taken decisions on Gaelic players, for example, which was another issue the committee raised.
How effective is that structure? The letter from the women rugby players that was issued this week suggests that the measures the committee called for are needed. The system is so ineffective that a large group of prominent figures in women's rugby wrote a letter stating, quite strongly, that they have no confidence or trust in the IRFU and its leadership after historic failings. One would imagine that if there was a system in place that was sufficient to deal with these issues, they would have been picked up on. There was a reason we asked for a full review of funding for women in sport and the task force. Given that letter from the women rugby players, does the Minister of State think there is now a need for him to revisit the committee's request?
As I said earlier, I take very seriously the letter we received from those players, both current and past. We are going to seek to address those issues with the IRFU and-----
It is good that the Minister of State has agreed to meet with them. That is very welcome.
I would be interested in their perspective. They did not cast any aspersions on Sport Ireland or on the structures that are in place. They did not reference them.
A large group of women sent a letter to the Minister of State. Imagine the utter frustration about the lack of transparency and accountability and obstruction that caused them to actually send that letter. They had several requests, one of which was that the Minister of State request oversight of the ongoing reviews to make sure the findings are transparent. They also want the recommendations of the reviews to be made available to all players and put in the public domain. Given the IRFU's response and what happened with women players in the FAI and so on, this must be taken seriously. We need a stronger message from the Minister of State. He said the engagement would be robust and comprehensive.
The Minister of State could put it out there that he expects to have oversight of the ongoing reviews and that he wants those reviews published and put in the public domain. As the previous speaker said, how else are we to correct any wrongs or misdoings? It is very important that we do that.
Given the level of dissatisfaction and the reluctance of the IRFU to listen to and address those concerns raised by the Minister of State, it is no harm for the message to go out that if proper governance is not adhered to, State funding will be withheld until it gets its ducks in a row and players, particularly female players, do not feel that they are cast to one side. It is quite serious. The serious message needs to come from the Minister of State that we will not pump State funding into the organisation until it cleans up its act.
I thank the Deputy for her comments. As I said, I take these matters extremely seriously. We have sent a very strong message around trying, first of all, to follow through in the first thing that was asked of us, which was to seek a meeting with the IRFU. We will have that meeting to reflect fully what was said by the players and to reflect all the issues. It is important that I have my engagement with the players and the IRFU in the first instance and I do not pre-empt the discussions that will take place. In all of the actions I have taken across many areas of policy, the Deputy will see the seriousness with which we take our sport action plan, with the focus on the dedicated funding increase, and our overall women in sport policy. She will see there is a focus on achieving progress in this area. As I said, I am very clear in trying to make progress across many areas of policy.
I accept that. Is it important that the message goes out that if governance changes do not happen, State funding will be withheld until those grave matters are addressed? Is that an important message to go out?
This is the final wrap-up of this particular piece because it has gone way over time.
What I will say to the Deputy is that we want to see progress on the issues raised by the players and to have a constructive pathway. That is why we have involved Sport Ireland: to have overall oversight of funding and to implement the policy that we set. I am not going to pre-empt the discussions, but all I will say is we will be robust and direct in our engagements with the IRFU. We look forward to meeting with the players as well. I will do that in the first instance.
I thank Deputy Munster for her questions. It comes to me now, if that is okay. I will begin by congratulating Katie Taylor on her most recent achievement at the weekend when she had her 20th professional win, which is hugely important. At the beginning, in the Minister of State's absence, I mentioned Rachael Blackmore's nomination for the BBC world sport star of the year award, another terrific achievement by our female athletes and sportswomen.
I will begin by congratulating the Minister of State. In his short time in as Minister of State in this area, parity of esteem and women's participation in football and all field sports have been at the top of his list. His stamp is seen all over in terms of trying to bring a balance to the imbalance that exists. I acknowledge that €2.4 million has been invested when it comes to female intercounty Gaelic games. We have had many hearings over the past two years on this very topic. It would have come as a great surprise to me to learn how women in sports struggle to receive the same supports that their male colleagues receive naturally in regard to physiotherapy, their own expenses and even having grounds for their training sessions. I was shocked and disturbed over the past couple of years during the hearings we have had around those issues. It is wonderful to see the Minister of State addressing that in terms of investment. That is hugely important in terms of his commitment to female participation.
In his opening statement, he said that as of the third quarter of 2021, male sports participation had returned to pre-pandemic levels at 48%, but women's participation had not at 38%, which was 7% behind the level measured in 2019. He outlined the delivery of the women in sport dormant account to address that. How that will manifest itself in practical measures for women in sports?
I thank the Chair and appreciate her comments. I echo what she has said around the huge achievements by Irish sportswomen over recent months. She has outlined them all and I will not repeat them.
We are concerned about the report from the third quarter of the year and the gap that has emerged. We will have a dormant accounts programme announced in the next two weeks. There will be a central focus there around female participation. There will be direct programmes through sporting organisations nationally, as part of the specific programmes that they run, and also through local sports partnerships, which will try to get collaboration at local level on specific targets where there is a participation gap. They run many programmes in the Chairman's own county and across the country. They are focusing on where there is a participation gap. For example, one of the areas of focus will obviously be on female participation and narrowing that around the dormant accounts funded programme. There will also be a focus on people with disabilities. We are focused on participation among people with disabilities, which is around 30%. There is a big focus on that area as well. The dormant accounts funding will play an important role on strengthening that.
These figures were obviously collated around the third quarter of the year, when there was a huge amount of return to sport. Many indoor sports were only returning at that point. Obviously, there would have been displacement in certain areas. Sometimes there would be higher levels of participation in certain indoor sports for women and girls and that would have affected the figures. Obviously, we have seen them all return in the fourth quarter of the year. I would be hopeful that we will see that gap narrow again in the figures for this quarter and the first quarter of next year.
As I have said, we are anxious to support female participation through our dormant accounts programme and also through our winter initiative. The committee has probably seen the Let's Get Back campaign, which was progressed by Sport Ireland in the autumn. We will build on that with specific winter initiatives in the period from January to March. We will encourage as many people as we can to get active and get back involved in their local sporting organisations. I am conscious of volunteer fatigue, which is there as well. We are trying to support volunteers and local clubs. The Covid package we announced this week will help with that too. That is some of the outline on the dormant accounts funded programme.
It sounds like there will be something there for all females. The drop-off rate has been notable. It usually comes around the ages of 15 or 16. Will the Minister of State be looking at a targeted response in terms of age profile?
Through the local sports partnerships and the Women in Sport fund, there is the Adolescent Girls Get Active research report from 8 March last. That research has been informative in how we shape future funding schemes through the Women in Sport fund and also how we fund local sports partnerships. From a positive perspective, strengthening that link between our education system and our local clubs and sporting organisations is important. We have seen better co-operation between schools and local clubs. For example, in the sports capital and equipment programme, schools with clubs can now look for funding, which was not there before. It was there in the last couple of rounds, but historically that was not the case. We are anxious to strengthen that engagement with our education system. Due to Covid, it has been difficult for schools to do this alone over the last 18 months. We are anxious to do more and to involve sport more within schools. We are anxious to try to narrow the attrition that happens, which can sometimes impact future participation through people's adult lives.
It is an important area to try to narrow the participation gap and we are anxious to make progress there. There are targeted interventions, as I said, through the Women in Sport Fund and also through local sports partnerships which we fund centrally from Sport Ireland.
I thank the Minister of State. I too have to acknowledge the work of the sports partnerships on the group. They are in touch with the sensitivities around this issue with sports people on the ground and also around disabilities and inclusion. In Cavan and Monaghan, it is my own personal experience, they have done terrific work in terms of providing the supports to groups to do that, to bring in female participation and to bring inclusivity within whatever sports field or activity it might be.
This is more an observation than a question. When you look at it, even as I was reflecting on the previous occasion when the referees were in discussing the issues facing them, they were from three male-dominated sports, we did not have anybody from smaller sports which have more female participation and there was no female voice at that committee. From the committee's point of view, it would be positive for us to do our bit and encourage more sports with more active participation by women when sports representatives come in to speak in the committee.
The vast majority of the State funding in Irish sports each year goes to three national governing bodies, NGB. A majority of participants in those three sports are male and a majority of the NGBs themselves are male dominated. Would the Minister of State look at weighting funding for sports more towards female participation because we all accept there is an issue? If there was a greater weighting for female participation, that might help. In hockey, for example, there is significant female participation but they never come in front of the committee to participate. We need to hear from those sports that have more female participation.
Deputy Andrews raised an important point that has not been raised. Something we need to strengthen - we have a coaching lead within Sport Ireland - is coaching and officiating and broadening the coaching base to include more women from grassroots to high performance. We are trying to increase the number of women officiating and refereeing as well. There is targeted coach education programmes for governing bodies to try and improve that and get greater numbers of women involved in coaching and officiating. It is a key part of the women in sport policy.
In the sports action plan, from a governance perspective, I have set out specific targets in terms of the female leadership of sporting organisations to hit 40% by 2023. There are many sports where there is strong female participation but it is about trying to ensure all sports make progress in this area. Some are better than others. There is considerable focus on this. In much of the core funding from Sport Ireland, the key focus is female participation for all sports. At a grassroots level, we are seeing the impact of that. Certainly, from when I started playing different sports at an age in single digits, there is a definite rebalancing happening on the ground. Deputy Andrews is seeing that. We are all seeing phenomenal participation from girls in clubs, in fact, across all sports. It is about strengthening that. Sport Ireland is focused on this. The impact on indoor sport had a particular effect on female participation where there were greater levels of restriction during the year. However, we are focused on providing that additional support. Through the specific Women in Sport Fund and through local sports partnerships there is direct funding for many sporting organisations and grassroots to strengthen female participation. That is something we are keen to progress in future years.
The Minister of State mentioned indoor sports. Indoor sports generally have a higher than average level of female participation yet the funding they get is low in comparison to the big three sports, which are probably the worst offenders when it comes to gender balance.
For the information of the Deputy, we have as a committee written to Hockey Ireland. I understand that they have, only today, made a written submission to us. That will be circulated in due course.
I thank the Minister of State for his meaningful engagement today with all of the members. It has been useful. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, for his time and thank the members for their line of questioning.
I propose we suspend the meeting to allow the secretariat to make arrangements for the next session, which is also on the topic of challenges facing women in sport, with representatives from the Federation of Irish Sport and Sport Ireland.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers. I am looking forward to this part of today's hearing. I welcome the witnesses who are joining us, albeit remotely. They are Mary O'Connor, CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport; Dr. Una May, director of participation and ethics, Sport Ireland; and Dr. May's colleague from Sport Ireland, Ms Nora Stapleton, the lead on women in sport.
The format of the meeting is such that I will invite witnesses to make an opening statement, which will be followed by questions from the members of the committee. The committee may publish the opening statements on its website following the meeting. Witnesses' statements are to be limited to five minutes.
The evidence of witnesses physically present or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected, pursuant to both the Constitution and statute, by absolute privilege. As our witnesses are attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus today, they should note that there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present. Such witnesses may believe it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter.
Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. If the witnesses' statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with all such directions.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members and witnesses to identify themselves when contributing to the debate for the sake of the Debates Office staff preparing the Official Report. I ask contributors to mute their microphones when not contributing to reduce the background noise and, if at all possible, to switch off their mobile phones. I remind everyone, particularly witnesses, to use the raise-hand button if they want to make a comment or statement.
I now call on the witnesses to make their opening statements, beginning with Ms O'Connor on behalf of the Federation of Irish Sport.
Ms Mary O'Connor
I thank the Chair and the committee for inviting the Federation of Irish Sport to make a submission on the challenges facing women in sport. The federation is a representative body for 110 sporting organisations across Ireland, including 81 national governing bodies, NGBs, and 29 local sports partnerships.
Some of the issues facing women in sport in Ireland were highlighted in the 2018 report, We are Sport, commissioned by Sport Ireland. It stated that the six core barriers for women in sport were confidence, prioritisation, motivation, education, influencers and structures. There are also significant challenges for women with disabilities being involved in sport in Ireland. In Ireland, individuals with a disability are far less likely to participate in sport, walk for recreation, volunteer for sport, be a sports club member or attend a sporting event than those without a disability. Barriers associated with low levels of participation for people with disabilities are lack of confidence, feeling vulnerable, social isolation, transport issues, inadequate facilities, cost of equipment and a lack of funding.
In March 2019, Sport Ireland launched a new women in sport policy. Coaching and officiating, active participation, leadership and governance, and visibility are its four key target areas. I will outline the main challenges facing women in sport under those four pillars. In Ireland, 51% of women have never volunteered for sport. Those who do volunteer are less likely than men to coach, referee or be a club official. In 2020, 2,374 female coaches from 60 different sports responded to a survey by Sport Ireland. The survey identified barriers to progression which can be grouped into five areas, namely, time constraints, sexism and gender-related issues, lack of confidence, lack of national governing body and club support, and parental factors. The primary reason given by active female coaches who did not plan to continue coaching or were unsure were club issues, personal impact and parental impact. The key objective under the active participation pillar is to significantly reduce the active sport participation gradient between men and women and reduce the drop-out from physical activity and sport in young girls.
The Sport Ireland report, Adolescent Girls Get Active, identified the following barriers relating to teenage girls and physical activity. The most powerful barrier that prevents inactive girls from taking part in sport and physical activity is not feeling good enough to join in. This stems from both their perceptions and experiences of competitive sport. These girls have narrow and often negative experiences of a small number of traditional and dominant team sports in Ireland and think this is all that sport is and can be. They feel too old to start a new sport in their teens. Girls associate sportiness with team and contact sports, so girls who are interested in exercise do not feel targeted by sporting initiatives. There is a feeling that there is no room for fun. Inactive girls are more attracted to activities that focus on fun, enjoyment and well-being and take the pressure off having to be talented. There is not enough provision catering to different abilities and levels of competitiveness, although this is improving.
On the leadership and governance pillar, some 71% of women perceived the administration and management of sport to be too male dominated. A key objective of the women in sport policy is to progress towards greater gender balance in board membership of funded bodies. The second objective is to provide a pathway for women aspiring to become leaders of funded bodies. In March 2020, females made up an average of 29% of boards across funded national governing bodies. This was an increase from 24% when the Sport Ireland policy on women in sport was published in 2019. In 2021, women accounted for 32% of board members in funded sport bodies and 37% of board members in local sports partnerships, LSPs. Barriers to women’s leadership in sport can be defined as any construct, norm or practice within the structural or cultural domains of sport serving to bar passage to or restrict or limit the ability of women to lead, guide or have influence. These barriers can be further categorised as structural barriers, cultural practices and capacity gaps.
The way board meetings have been run historically can make it challenging for women to commit. An example is the timing of meetings in the evening when women tend to have most of the family responsibilities. Time constraints remain a challenge for all volunteers. As the level of commitment to a club committee and boards increases, fewer people are likely to want to give this time to volunteering. The lack of term limits for board membership can mean no opportunities for changing the board membership which reduces the opportunities to vote a woman on to the board.
On visibility, women make up 40% of all participants in sports worldwide, yet somehow receive only 4% of sports media coverage. In Ireland, in 2018 just 3% of print and 4% online sport coverage was dedicated to women’s sport. A Sport Ireland report on Irish print media found that 4.2% of articles in 2019 represented female sport or athletes while 5.8% of images in 2019 represented female sport or athletes. There was notable variation between newspapers. One newspaper had 2% of articles representing female sport or athletes while another had 7.4% during the same period. There was a 1.1% increase in print media coverage of women’s sport over a four-year period. Asked why coverage was so low in meetings with the print media, the responses included a lack of information and stories provided by the sports, having to provide the content that their readers want, which is not necessarily women in sport, and the lack of dedicated women in sport resources. Media outlets - print, radio and television - do not have any key performance indicators on gender and are not held accountable if women’s sport is not included in their coverage of sport.
Members should note that no direct reference was made to the challenges facing women in sport in high performance in this submission. Although relevant, the federation does not believe we are best placed to present on those challenges.
Many challenges still face women in sport in Ireland. However, considerable work and development have been undertaken since the launch of the women in sport policy in 2019 and significant outputs from that work should become apparent over the lifetime of the policy to ensure sustainable progression, along with the actions outlined in the recently launched Sports Action Plan 2021–2023.
I thank Ms O'Connor for that very comprehensive presentation, which featured some stark figures, not only on the participation of women in sport but also the media's role in that, something the Minister of State outlined earlier. I invite Dr. May to make her opening remarks.
Dr. Una May
I thank the Chair and the committee for its invitation to address it this afternoon. I am joined by Ms Nora Stapleton, the women in sport lead with Sport Ireland. I will present a summary of my prepared opening statement. The committee will have heard much of its contents already. Ms Stapleton and I will be available for questions afterwards. Ms O'Connor, as a close collaborator of Sport Ireland, has presented much of the detail of the women in sport policy, which forms the basis of much of our combined efforts in tackling the challenges facing women in sport today.
The Sport Ireland women in sport programme was first created in 2005 following research that identified a significant gap in the participation rates of females and males. The programme was reviewed and relaunched in 2019 alongside Sport Ireland's policy on women in sport, which identifies four key areas that have emerged as current gaps and future opportunities for women in sport. The committee has heard what these are but I will repeat them. The four areas are leadership and governance, coaching and officiating, active participation, and visibility.
Sport Ireland’s vision for women in sport is one where women have an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential, while enjoying a lifelong involvement in sport. We also have a women in sport steering committee which meets four or five times per year. Over the years of the women in sport policy, €22 million has been invested through the programme in national governing bodies and local sports partnerships. While participation levels in the population in general have increased in recent years, a slightly larger increase in participation among women has led to a narrowing of the gender gap from almost 16% in 2007 when data were first collected under the sports monitor to 3.4% in 2019.
The onset of the pandemic in March 2020 has had an impact on sports participation trends nationally. Sport Ireland has continuously monitored these effects and unfortunately the research has identified growing gradients in sports participation for women. Male sports participation has recovered faster than female participation resulting in a widening of the gender gap. Notably, more women are walking for recreation so they are remaining active.
Previous waves of the sports monitor research have indicated the key barriers to sports participation among women, of which time is the most significant. Other barriers to female participation include lack of awareness of physical activity guidelines, lack of confidence, poor health and injury, cost, access to facilities and, at certain stages in women's lives, pregnancy.
More recently, Sport Ireland has started to identify the particular needs of women at specific target subsections of female population because, as we know, one size does not fit all.
We have been targeting the teenage years, prenatal and postnatal times, menopause and older women for example. Ms O'Connor mentioned the teenage girls and young women. The Adolescent Girls Get Active research report focused on girls who are currently disengaged with sport. This was a very enlightening report which gave us much information. As Ms O'Connor mentioned, comments that they feel they are “not good enough” or “not sporty” seem to be rooted in their experience of traditional, more male-dominated team sports and the stereotypes reinforced in popular culture and experiences.
They feel there is a lack of social space for teenagers where they feel welcomed. This includes what they consider to be uncool facilities, for example a community centre which is not as trendy as they would like. They also referred to limited opportunities to try new things and learn new skills, leaving them with a lack of opportunity to feel good about themselves.
Girls who are active in their teenage years and develop a love of sport are much more likely to establish a life-long relationship with sport and exercise in adulthood. That is why this is an important age group for us to target. The type of sport engaged with also influences their future participation. Sport Ireland has created an evidence-based coaching workshop for coaches of teenage girls with a view to developing more informed coaches who can help reduce the dropout of teenage girls from sport. We hope that by February 2022 more than 1,000 coaches will have received that training.
On leadership and governance, we welcomed the recent Government announcement regarding a new target of 40% gender balance on the boards of sporting organisations. We are pleased to reiterate what the Minister of State and Ms O'Connor mentioned about the increase in board membership and the increased percentage of females on boards in recent years. We hope to see that continue to grow. We realise this is a big challenge for some sports.
As part of our work on board membership, we have created a gender diversity on boards toolkit. As part of the research for that project, we identified challenges that impact the recruitment and retention of women on boards. These include the format and timings of meetings, the absence of leadership training, traditional recruitment methods and a lack of mentoring and support to new female board members. These have all been addressed in our recently created gender diversity on boards toolkit which supports boards in developing and maintaining better gender balance. Sport Ireland continues to create other programmes and resources to support women and men in leadership and governance equally.
Through its women in sport funding programme, Sport Ireland supports several women in sport leadership programmes which are ongoing in the LSPs and NGBs. These programmes support current female leaders as well as those with potential to hold leadership and governance roles within their sport in the future.
Under the visibility pillar we see the importance of making females visible in all areas of sport, including leadership in sport, coaching, officiating and participation. In 2019, Sport Ireland conducted a report on print media coverage of women’s sport. That is something we need to develop. We have also identified that some sports do not have the necessary resources to ensure that female sporting news is available and shared with media. In addition, there is a new challenge, which is also an opportunity, with the way in which people consume sports news. It is not just through mainstream television and newspapers, which are being replaced by pay-per-view television, live streaming, social media and podcasts. Sport Ireland is exploring these new ways to support the visibility of women in sport. We have seen the opportunities that this provides and have developed the first media training programme for female pundits and analysts with over 120 females benefiting from various levels of support and training in this programme.
There are many examples of programmes and initiatives through which Sport Ireland is currently supporting the visibility of women, such as our Women on Wednesday sports series, our Women in Sport Week, which will take place again next year, and the Her Outdoors campaign.
We have a coaching working group within the women in sports steering group which is looking at challenges relating to coaching. Ms O'Connor mentioned many of the barriers on women coaches, including time constraints and worryingly sexism and gender-related issues in sport, lack of confidence, lack of NGB and club support, and parental factors. These are all areas we can tackle.
The first action coming from the research as part of that project has been the development of a women in coaching toolkit to support organisations to help them in their planning for the recruitment, development and retention of women in coaching.
The culture within sport organisations is also a factor that can affect female coaches. If the culture has been traditionally male dominated then the environment can sometimes not be conducive to making female coaches feel valued and supported. The women in coaching toolkit aims to educate sports on this topic and guide them on how to address these issues if they exist in their sport.
The number of women coaching in high-performance sport in Ireland is very low. Over the coming months, Sport Ireland plans to establish a coaching network for elite-level female coaches. Ms O'Connor also mentioned the gradients within volunteering. We know that those gradients vary at different stages in people's lives. Women are more likely to volunteer when they are younger than when they are older.
As mentioned by the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, I recognise the phenomenal success of many of our female high-performance athletes in the past year who are reflecting an advanced Sport Ireland high-performance system in which our women athletes have achieved more than 50% of the major medals won by sportspeople in 2021.
I again thank the Cathaoirleach and the committee for the opportunity to address it. I hope it can assist, advise and support us in our goal of ensuring that women have an equal opportunity to achieve their full potential while enjoying a lifelong involvement in sport.
I do not think there is much left to be said after that presentation. I congratulate Dr. May, Ms Stapleton and Ms O'Connor on their opening statements.
My first question is for Sport Ireland. Was Sport Ireland aware of what was going on with the IRFU and women's rugby?
Dr. Una May
Our intention is not to make too many comments on the situation for women's rugby today because the Minister of State has asked us to meet the players. We intend to listen to the players and hear their side of the debate.
I am asking about the type of oversight Sport Ireland had. Was it aware of the issue before the players took the desperate measure out of frustration to write to the Minister?
Dr. Una May
The important thing in this case is that the players have decided to address the Ministers directly and personally on this issue, as is their right. Sport Ireland is aware of ongoing challenges with many issues across all sports, as identified in our research. We do not specifically target these individuals as part of that.
Does Sport Ireland not have a role in oversight? Dr. May just gave a comprehensive statement on women in sport. Let us be honest, these are not minor issues. Did Sport Ireland not have some level of oversight? Would that not have come under its remit?
Dr. Una May
Our remit primarily relates to development in sport. We monitor and recognise the challenges all sports have. Where funding is provided for specific programmes and initiatives, we monitor that. We are entering a new phase on evaluation of our programmes and initiatives.
Sport Ireland does so where funding is provided. Again, I ask where was the oversight in this case?
Dr. Una May
The reference I make to the oversight relates to the funding and programmes that are supported under the women in sport programme. These are broader issues within the sport. We certainly intend to listen to their players and to be fully cognisant of all the issues that are there. We are aware that a number of reviews have been requested and they are currently being implemented. We look forward to the outcome of those reviews. We hope they will help us in our assessment of the situation. We are aware of those reviews.
Therefore, Dr. May is saying she is happy to leave well enough alone for the moment.
Dr. Una May
We will meet the players. It is important for us to await the outcome-----
I do not want to talk down time and run out of time. Was Sport Ireland aware of what was going on prior to the players sending the letter? What was done about it? What was the role of Sport Ireland in that?
Dr. Una May
As I have said, we have been aware of the reviews and reports that are being carried out. It is our intention to await the reports arising from those and reviews. We anticipate them being published and we hope they will be independent and transparent reviews which will clearly outline the issues arising.
Dr. May said that the number of national governing bodies with no women on the board has been reduced from 13 to five, which is welcome.
Five governing bodies still have no women on their boards. Which ones? Were there any repercussions for that in terms of funding?
Dr. Una May
The deadline for application of the governance code for sporting bodies in Ireland is this month. This is not specifically related to that. The Minister has identified 2023 as the target for the gender quotas, if one wants to put it that way, for the governing bodies. We will continue to push for those gender quotas to be met but I can identify that there are some minor sports that struggle because they have low rates of participation historically. When I use the word "minor", I mean that those sports have minority status not that they are less important. For example, Bol Chumann na hÉireann, the Horseshoe Pitchers' Association and the Irish Tenpin Bowling Association are among the sports organisations that currently do not have the appropriate level of gender balance. We will work closely with those organisations. We know they have challenges in meeting those requirements.
Does Dr. May know the percentage of women on the board of the IRFU?
Dr. Una May
The IRFU board includes 13% women, which is neither appropriate nor sufficient, in our view. It clearly has some way to go to meet the requirements set out by the Minister. We will work closely with the IRFU. The Minister will define how that deficit will be addressed if, come 2023, those targets are not being met. We will work closely with the IRFU.
Am I right in stating that there will no repercussions for that until 2023?
Dr. Una May
That is correct.
Can organisations jog on as they are?
Dr. Una May
They are increasing representation and working on these issues. As I say, we intend to work closely with them, as we have been, though training programmes.
Ms O'Connor referred earlier to the boards and mentioned that there were no term limits on board membership, which can mean no opportunities for changing board membership and, therefore, less chance of a female member being voted onto a board. Will she expand on that? Is it the case that there are governing bodies with no term limits on board memberships?
Before Ms O'Connor responds, I remind members everyone that we are way over time on this. Will Ms O'Connor be as brief as possible?
Ms Mary O'Connor
I will be brief. Term limits depend on the constitution of the organisation involved. Part of the governance code, as Dr. May mentioned, recommends term limits for board members in order to ensure succession planning. Another element of the governance code, which, as Dr. May alluded to, requires all organisations to comply by the end of this year, is succession planning. Every national governing body and local sports partnership is to have a succession plan for their boards. There is a hope that will change.
I welcome our guests and thank them for their substantial presentations. Ms O'Connor and Dr. May both made comments about visibility and percentages. Unfortunately, visibility was not an issue in the past 48 hours because the grievances and concerns that have been aired by the international rugby players made the back page of every single national newspaper and, indeed, some front pages as well. I heard what Dr. May said about waiting for the review but the players have clearly stated they do not have confidence in the context of significant changes coming from the review, hence why they have asked for the intervention. Is Sport Ireland prepared to intervene to the level that has been asked for by the players, who have stated they do not have confidence that significant changes will happen as a result of the review?
Ms Mary O'Connor
From our perspective, it is important that we await those outcomes. We will meet the players as soon as possible, prior to Christmas if that is appropriate and if it is what they would like. However, it is appropriate from our point of view that we await the results of the process that is under way. We will await the findings of those two reviews before we take substantial actions in any direction.
I will return to the issue of visibility and the role of Sport Ireland in terms of participation. What is Sport Ireland's analysis of the impact of high-profile stars airing their grievances in significant detail? What is the impact on young rugby players and those involved across codes? Does it reinforce the negative connotations to which Ms O'Connor referred earlier? Does it reinforce those barriers or is it a positive thing in trying to address the things that are wrong?
Dr. Una May
There is a saying that no news is good news. Sometimes we do not want to hear bad news but, at the same time, it does raise the profile of women's sport. It is not the right kind of profile we would like to see and we are concerned about the level of profile that a negative issue such as this attracts. However, we are doing a lot and we have achieved a great deal in raising the profile of regular women who are participating in sport and physical activity. We are also conscious that we need to focus on what teenage girls are asking for, that is, role models from their own peer group. We will continue to put effort and energy into initiatives that are identified as appropriate and successful in targeting young teenage girls from that point of view. This is a high profile and negative issue but it is raising the profile of women in sport, that is for sure.
When Ms O'Connor and I spoke earlier in the year, the issue of equality of funding for ladies football and camogie was a hot topic. Some €2.4 million has since been announced to create that equality. I am sure Ms O'Connor welcomes that. What is her analysis of that situation and what does she think will be required in the new year?
Ms Mary O'Connor
The funding is welcome. It has been a long time coming. Future generations of players are going to benefit. We have emerging talent now not just in ladies Gaelic games but also in other spheres. There is now a talent pathway, and that is important. Girls who are 17, 18 or 19 years of age and playing Gaelic games can see there is a support mechanism there for them during their college years to allow them to achieve the maximum from their talent as inter-county adult players.
Ms O'Connor referred to on coaching, an issue that Dr. May also touched on. We had a report from the FAI a few weeks ago, launched by Packie Bonner, which referred to the importance of football across different aspects of society. One of the things mentioned, which was startling, was that in Louth, the game had in the past not even existed due to a lack of coaches. That changed over the past decade or so and there has been a considerable increase in participation. Have our guests found that to be prevalent across the country in their analysis? Is there a problem in providing both male and female coaches to ensure that games, across codes, develop?
Ms Mary O'Connor
People need to understand that women's sport, for the most part, is in its infancy. That is the case for every sport in Ireland. Ladies Gaelic football will not be 50 years old for another year. Its viability, visibility and popularity have grown. We have seen an influx of what we call girl dads into ladies' sport, which is welcome. As Dr. May has said, we need to increase the number of female coaches not just at foundational level, which is, for the most part, at grassroots level. It is also important that we have a talent identification pathway for female coaches who want to reach a high-performance level and coach at Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.
I will turn to media coverage, from a positive point of view. Ms O'Connor earlier gave us the startling statistic that in 2018, 3% of the coverage of sport in Ireland dealt with women's sport. That is pathetic. We are going to see a lot of positive coverage this weekend because six of the eight nominees for sports person of the year are women from multiple sports. That will be covered. Those athletes have broken down the barriers and got the coverage for themselves. The media is not giving them that coverage. Can Sport Ireland and the federation capitalise on that? Do our guests have media plans in place to ensure proactivity, to keep pressing that forward and reinforcing that positive message not just for young girls but for young people in general across Ireland?
Ms Mary O'Connor
It is difficult to get a balance in visibility for women in sport. We either have to over-excel and overachieve to get coverage or something else has to happen. I am sure the sports that are being represented at that award ceremony will have plans in place. There is a growing wealth of talent involved in national governing bodies around the promotion of women in sport.
We in the Federation of Irish Sport were the public presenter of the very successful 20x20 campaign. That was a success because we had key stakeholders who are media partners involved in the campaign. We had State broadcasters and independent media involved in the campaign who publicly committed to it. That helped drive consistency and visibility. What we want in women's sport in Ireland is just that consistency and visibility rather than women's sport being just here and there. That is what girls need. As Dr. May rightly said, we need that visibility not just in print and radio but also through the platforms on which women and girls of all ages engage, be it TikTok, Instagram or whatever else. We need to be consistent. There is a lot of work to be done there, but I know that under the women in sport lead, Ms Stapleton, there is a plan for the visibility and the promotion of women and girls in sport in Ireland.
I have to move on. I invite Deputy Fitzpatrick to speak if he is on the line. If he is not, we will move on. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan, the floor is yours.
This is a really important session. We have just had a session with the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, and we have to acknowledge that he has put a significant focus on inclusivity in sport, particularly in encouraging and trying to facilitate more participation from females in sport. That has to be welcomed, whether it is through participation on boards, funding mechanisms or encouraging organisations that apply for funding to increase their level of female participation. That is a stamp the Minister of State has managed to put on his role so far, but there is, of course, a long way to go. That is obvious.
Listening to Senator Cassells was almost like listening to an episode of Off the Ball, given his line of questioning. The old journo in him was coming out again.
The Sportstar Awards were mentioned. In the previous session I said something similar. If you think of our biggest achievers in sports, you think of people such as Kellie Harrington or Emily Hegarty, an Olympic bronze medallist in rowing from my area of west Cork. Traditionally, however, Sonia O'Sullivan was probably one of our biggest ever superstars, and there is Katie Taylor, obviously. They are two names that roll off the tongue, but that is not then reflected in the media coverage. The most startling aspect of what we are hearing here today is the disgraceful amount of media coverage whereby women accounted for 4.2% of articles and 5.8% of images in 2019. Dr. May, Ms O'Connor and Ms Stapleton may not have this figure, but I would love to know how that compares with the UK or our European counterparts.
A point I continue to make, going back to the culture of sport here compared with that in Europe, is that there seems to be a greater emphasis on treating female sports stars in the exact same way, with the exact same amount of respect and coverage, as male sports stars in Europe - not just sports stars; I mean anyone participating in sports. I keep using the same examples of athletics, tennis and winter sports such as skiing. The reason I do so is that one thing that may or may not be a factor - the witnesses can correct me if I am wrong here - is that the major events in those sports are held on the same day. With major tennis championships, you get the same crowds in the same stadiums for events held over the same two weeks. It is the same with the athletics championships and world cups. I mentioned Emily Hegarty in the context of rowing, where there is more of an equilibrium. Those world cups are held on the same day. It is the same with skiing, cross-coutry skiing and the biathlon. I imagine - and I stand to be corrected - that female sports stars and female sports in general in Europe get far more coverage. Is that leading to this inequity and lack of coverage? Take rugby. There are some household names in rugby such as Niamh Briggs and Ms Stapleton, who is on the call, and in GAA such as Rena Buckley, but there is nowhere near the same level of recognition. Is it because in those sports I mentioned the major championships, finals and other events are, in general, held on different days? Although the crowds and the popularity of these sports are exploding, is that an aspect we are getting wrong in that when we look at the success in Europe it is not translated here in respect of our main sports such as rugby, GAA and camogie because they are held on different days? I would like a comment on that. If the witnesses do not have those figures for the European media coverage, they might come back to me on the matter.
Finally, I asked this second question of the Minister of State as well, but the witnesses may have more detail. To what extent is childcare an issue? It should not be this way but, unfortunately, we live in a society in which the lack of provision of childcare impacts women more than men. How much does the lack of childcare and the difficulty in accessing it contribute to women not staying in sport or participating in sport into adulthood, into their 30s, 40s, etc.?
The witnesses might come back to me on those questions, whoever feels it appropriate to answer them.
Deputy, you have used your entire five minutes so I will have to ask those who are-----
I do not have a clock here, Chairperson, so I cannot-----
I know. Dr. May is indicating, as is Ms O'Connor, I think. I ask our guests to be as brief as possible. Perhaps it is just Dr. May indicating.
Dr. Una May
I will be brief. As for the media coverage, we do not have an awful lot of the statistics. We do know that in the UK the coverage in the print media is quite good in comparison with that in Ireland. I point out that tomorrow there will be a women in sport supplement part-funded by Sport Ireland in The Irish Times in the lead-up to its Sportswoman of the Year Award. The supplement will cover not just high-performance sport but a lot of other sports, including women with disabilities, targeting our Women on Wednesday series and so on.
As for childcare, parental responsibilities have come up on a number of occasions in our surveys but it has also been found in our research that children in families in which the mother is active are more likely to continue lifelong participation in sports, so the mother has a significant influence on the children's participation. I would also draw attention to the maternity policy for high-performance athletes that has just recently been introduced by Sport Ireland. The policy recognises that high-performance athletes may take some time out of their career and will continue to be supported during that time while they have their babies.
Those are just a few quick points. Sorry - I know we are tight for time.
That is wonderful. I will move on. Deputy Griffin, the floor is yours.
I thank our guests. I acknowledge their continued important work for the sport sector in Ireland. I emphasise my support for our women rugby players. I believe that the issues they have raised need to be given full consideration by all the appropriate stakeholders. I am quite concerned by what I have read and I believe that the matters raised need to be taken very seriously. They deserve our support.
As for the role of schools, this is not directed at anyone in particular, but could more be done, do the witnesses think, at primary level and secondary level to try to help with our messaging and participation? An area that does not get enough focus, maybe, outside of high performance is the transition into third level. We often talk about the transition from primary to secondary in the teenage years, but the transition into third level probably warrants further scrutiny and action. Could we discuss that and see if there is something we could do to improve the overall situation with a focus on how we can improve participation levels at third level?
Ms Mary O'Connor
I will come in there if that is okay.
In the 20x20 campaign, 26 of the 29 third level institutions on the island of Ireland signed up to increase women's participation and the numbers of officials, etc. That was telling and it demonstrated that an appetite existed. Dr. May or Ms Stapleton may have the figures. It is also important to ensure girls’ lifelong involvement in sport beyond third level. To do that, it is necessary to start and intervene at the nursery and crèche stage. By that I mean that it is necessary to develop physical literacy, and this action is contained in the national sports policy. Teenage dropout from sports does not happen only when that age is attained. It begins at six, seven, eight and nine years old. Obviously, if we want girls to participate in sport and physical activities in third level institutions, then we must ensure that we keep them involved in sports as teenagers. It is also important that those sports offered at third level institutions are more holistic and not just competitive. Opportunities should be provided for participation in recreational sports activities as well, as should the possibility of experiencing new sports. I refer to those activities that there may have been no chance to participate in at secondary or primary level.
Ms Stapleton also indicated. She is more than welcome to contribute.
Ms Nora Stapleton
On participation at third level, it is important to note that many national governing bodies outline programmes - and participation programmes in particular - for the third level sector in their Women in Sport funding applications. In sports such as volleyball and basketball, for example, the aim is to facilitate the social aspect of participation in sport at third level. Student Sport Ireland also does much work in this area. It has established a women's student coaching academy. It is a new programme offered this year, and the first of its kind. It examines how female coaches in universities can be supported during their coaching journeys, because the numbers can be low. Those are some of the ongoing programmes in this area.
I thank the witnesses for their responses. I acknowledge the ongoing work, which is important. I remember discussing the 20x20 campaign with Ms O’Connor about two years before it kicked off. It has made a massive impact, and everyone involved can be proud. It changes the whole dynamic of women’s sports in Ireland. It has been an extraordinarily successful campaign, and it is continuing.
Another area I would like to explore is how we can best leverage the success of our high-performance female athletes nationally and internationally. We have some outstanding ambassadors for sport among our female athletes. They do great work in their communities and in the media. Much great work is happening already, but is there a need for better resourcing and financial support to get more even work done in this regard? I ask because these ambassadors for sport, these proven successful athletes, are great people to inspire the next generation of athletes, as well as to encourage people not involved in any form of recreational activity to go back to sport.
Which of our guests would like to take those questions?
Dr. Una May
We support such a programme. The Olympic Federation of Ireland has taken responsibility. We supported the pilot of a programme called Dare to Believe, which is for athletes who have retired. They go back into schools, share their experiences and promote the concept of high-performance activity in everyone’s life. Their experiences are shared with young people, and in that way these retired athletes impart their knowledge of how to set goals and implement the skills they obtained during their high-performance careers in daily life.
As was mentioned, we have also done a great deal of work with the athletes. We get considerable support from them with our campaigns, and we have some good athletes who are always willing and supportive when we seek role models to promote any kind of initiatives. An example would be the Let's Get Back campaign or some of our Department of Health campaigns, in respect of which we have had good support from our athletes. It has not just been in the sports sector, but in delivering the message beyond that realm as well.
I thank Dr. May. Ms Stapleton has another point to make.
Ms Nora Stapleton
Following the Olympics and the Paralympics, we wrote to the participating athletes to congratulate them on their achievements at both. In those letters, we encouraged any of them interested in getting involved in leadership opportunities, visibility coaching, participation initiatives or anything like that to be sure to let us know they wanted to be involved and to confirm that we could contact them if and when we had opportunities for them to support programmes and initiatives. A high percentage have already responded, and said they would welcome the opportunity to get involved in these endeavours. It would seem, therefore, that the door is open in the context of our high-performance female athletes.
That is great. It is what I was getting at, so it is encouraging. I thank Ms Stapleton, and Dr. May and Ms O’Connor. I wish them continued success with their important work.
I call Deputy Mythen.
I thank our witnesses. Many of the questions have been asked already, but I would like to explore the toolkit concept that was referred to. Who rolls this out? How many sports have availed of it? What is imperative for our witnesses and their organisations is the composition of the national governing boards. Are additional measures such as gender quotas warranted in that regard? I have sat on several boards, and it is often hard to get people to step down. Power lies at that level and it is where things can be changed from the inside out.
Turning to the steering committee of Women in Sport, how does that interface with the sports themselves? What kind of power does it have? I reiterate as well what was said about media outlets. It is scandalous that there is such a low percentage of coverage devoted to female sports. Might the Minister have a role to play in ensuring that organisations in receipt of State funding, such as RTÉ, provide equal coverage of women’s sports?
Ms Mary O'Connor
On the gender quota aspect and the governance code point of view, the Federation of Irish Sport provides a board recruitment service. Essentially, we have a database of potential male and female independent directors who are highly qualified in legal, finance and other areas of expertise. We have seen a great increase in the number of national governing bodies accessing this service. It is great, because that provides independent directors on boards as well. That aspect is important for succession planning, as well as in helping to bring about balanced and informed decision-making at board level. I leave it to Dr. May and Ms Stapleton to address the steering committee query.
Dr. Una May
The steering committee of Women in Sport is a sub-committee of the board of Sport Ireland. As a result, it has quite a level of influence and power. Its role is to monitor, advise and support the board and the executive in the implementation of the Women in Sport policy. The steering committee is chaired by a board member, and consequently it has a significant role to play. I reiterate what Ms O’Connor said about gender quotas, term limits and the governance code. We hope those aspects will go a long way in helping to achieve our goals. The first step is governance code compliance, and the next step will be to specifically target gender quotas.
Ms Stapleton is best placed to share details of the toolkits we have available for coaching and for gender diversity on boards. Sport Ireland, as a development agency, sees its role as providing the resources and supports needed to build capacity and to develop the agencies we work with. Those include the national governing bodies, local sports partnerships and the other agencies we work with. Ms Stapleton is closely involved in the roll out of those toolkits and is probably best placed to comment on the matter.
Ms Nora Stapleton
I will comment on the gender diversity on boards toolkit.
We launched that back in January through webinar as everything is virtual. Again, probably approximately 160 people turned up to the launch and we followed up to ensure they had all the resources to go with that. We also include that information in any other governance pieces we roll out with the sector, whether with local sports partnerships or national governing bodies. In the Women in Sport week we hosted a women in leadership webinar and, again, there were about 600 people registered for that. Just recently we had our annual governance seminar posted by Sport Ireland, where gender diversity on boards had one of the key spots. Again, we brought up the toolkit to show national governing bodies and local sports partnerships that their board members and chief executives can use that toolkit.
Dr. May also mentioned the women in coaching toolkit, created off the back of the research we did on female coaches in Ireland. The toolkit is designed for the organisations and we launched it in September this year, with approximately 160 people from the sector attending. We followed that up with a symposium that was to bring people through the various content pieces of the coaching toolkit and how to use it effectively. We had 60 representatives from the national governing bodies and local sports partnerships attending that half-day event, where they were treated to guest speakers and case studies from national governing bodies that had already implemented areas of the toolkit.
We realise this is something we will definitely have to bring out again probably twice per year. We may also have to set up smaller networks of sports and we are looking to put certain actions in place from that toolkit so if people are interested in recruiting female coaches, for example, a smaller cohort of sports may be able to work with and support one another, sharing how they might try to recruit more female coaches to the sport.
I know when I was involved with my local rugby club it formed a crèche and women were able to play as a result. Are there similar ideas out there?
Ms Nora Stapleton
I am familiar with that sort of initiative occurring in some sports, and not just rugby, as well as individual clubs. It can also happen in leisure centres, etc., and it is very much a positive and proactive step that individual organisations and clubs are taking. We certainly welcome it. We just do not have anything like that in any of our major plans or future initiatives. It is definitely something to consider.
I thank the Deputy for his line of questioning. Senator Malcolm Byrne has five minutes.
I thank the witnesses not just for their presentation but their work in this area over a number of years. We are seeing the fruits of that labour and we must now consider how to develop this further. I was struck after reading some stuff by Ms Sarah Keane, the president of the Olympic Federation of Ireland, who spoke about the question of school uniforms involving teenage girls to a greater extent and the importance of doing that within the school environment.
We are currently engaging on the whole area of leaving certificate reform and looking at the school curriculum at second level. If the witnesses were the Minister for Education and considered the support that could be given within an educational context to teenage girls' participation, what would they do?
My next question brings a slight conflict. I noticed that Ms Lynne Cantwell was one of the signatories to the letter to the Irish Rugby Football Union on behalf of women's rugby. She also chairs the women in sport committee as a member of the board with Sport Ireland. The question is that a member of the board of Sport Ireland is raising specific concerns around what is happening within a member organisation. Will the witnesses comment on that?
My main issue is the question of the educational system. Ms O'Connor mentioned some statistics at the start indicating only approximately 7% of teenage girls are really actively taking part in sport. What can we do in education to change that?
Ms Mary O'Connor
The Senator spoke about leaving certificate reform but at that stage it is too late. Girls' perceptions and interest in sport and physical activity starts at the beginning of primary school or even Montessori. Physical literacy must be achieved or started there. As girls get older and during teenage years they become very aware of themselves going through a very key transition in their lives. They become very self-conscious of body image and so on. There physical literacy and ability to perform certain skills and be physically active is important. We need girls to participate in sport not just on a competitive or talent level but with regard to holistic enjoyment or fun. That evidence came from the report that Ms Stapleton led on.
As we are all aware, there are 17 sustainable development goals and the fifth is about achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. I would love to see increased awareness around those sustainable development goals for teenage girls because they are the next generation. There is an opportunity and I have often said sport, physical activity and the sustainable development goals can be a winning formula. I know there is ongoing work from Sport Ireland's perspective under the national sports policy action plan in aligning the sustainable development goals to sport. I welcome the outcome of that to see where we can lead and what we can do.
In short, this must start way before girls get to teenage years. It must start when they are four, five, six and seven. They need to get physical literacy right.
Dr. Una May
I can speak to the education system. It would be nice to have that influence and be the Minister for Education but we have built some good relationships with the Department of Education recently. We are just about to embark on our biannual research study on the participation of children and young people in sport and physical activity. That research is carried out through the assistance of schools and we really appreciate their assistance in rolling out that research.
In addition to the research being carried out as part of that project, we have also engaged with the Department on the ongoing consultation around the junior cycle curriculum. Dr. O'Connor previously mentioned the importance of physical literacy and this is something we raised in our consultation paper. From our perspective it is also important to ensure we support not just the physical literacy side but the greater opportunities for children and young people in sport, particularly teenage girls who may value more variety in the opportunities they are offered. The curriculum outlines significant opportunities but in order to ensure those opportunities are made available we must see the curriculum implemented to the full extent.
I am happy with that. I do not know if Dr. May wishes to comment on the question I raised of a member of the board of Sport Ireland being a signatory to the letter to the IRFU.
Dr. Una May
From our perspective it is important for us to state it is a matter for Ms Cantwell herself on a personal level. I should reassure people that Lynne would absent herself from decisions on the board around the IRFU and any deliberations on this matter. She is not involved with them.
I totally appreciate that. My point is that it is interesting that the chair of the women in sport committee has raised the matter. I am conscious the IRFU is carrying out a review and on foot of that review, any response that is necessary and appropriate should be followed through.
On a local level and speaking about local clubs, I know Gorey Rugby Club has been particularly active in encouraging young women to get involved and it has a very active programme in that area. We are seeing many examples of that in sports clubs and groups right around the country at juvenile level. As Ms O'Connor and Dr. May have said, if it can be tied into the formal education system to provide those supports and that confidence to young women, many of the long-term objectives would be achieved.
I welcome all our guests today. I will speak about the 20x20 campaign as mentioned by both Ms O'Connor and a former Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy Griffin.
It was a fantastic campaign that highlighted the low levels of participation and the low level of media attention throughout women's sport. As I said to the Minister of State earlier, we need a new campaign like that, although it would have a different title. If we are going to reach those participation levels and close the gender gap, we need a campaign with the media attention that campaign got fully behind it. It brought in a lot of high-profile international rugby players and players from all sports and we have seen the effect that had, particularly in the media. According to the FIS's opening statement, in 2019 only 4.2% of articles referred to female sports and female athletes, which is astounding. There has been an increase in representation, with games being covered on national radio and TV. This is something that should be done and the Minister of State reacted positively to that suggestion. I ask Sport Ireland and FIS to take that on board. They can give it a different name but we should have a similar campaign over the next few years to make sure we reach that gender gap level by 2027 and increase not just participation in sport but attendance, media coverage and participation at an administrative level within the organisations.
I am a former member of the central council of the GAA. The one club model is something I have always fully supported. We should bring the LGFA, the Camogie Association and the GAA under one banner and promote all sports equally. I look forward to seeing that happen and I believe it will happen fully in the not-too-distant future.
On the letter to the IRFU, Dr. May made a comment about when the report that the IRFU is conducting at present is published. Yet, according to documentation and part of the letter, it is not going to be published. Philip Browne said that the full review would not be made public and that the union would continue its long-standing policy of releasing only the key findings to the media. Any review conducted by any organisation that is State-funded should be made public in order that everyone is aware of what the findings are and we can identify the issues and rectify them. In this case there are a lot of issues within the rugby fraternity and they need to be rooted out and dealt with.
Ms Mary O'Connor
The 20x20 campaign was presented by FIS. It was not our concept but the key learning from that related to the target groups. It resonated with different age cohorts of females, which was important, but it also resonated across genders. It started difficult conversations and stimulated debate but it also motivated an awful lot of people to get involved in women's sport and motivated coverage of women's sport organically by organisations taking on their own livestreaming of events and so on. That is all very welcome. I know from talking to Ms Stapleton and Dr. May that work is ongoing around a visibility campaign in Sport Ireland and we welcome that. The 20x20 campaign was independent and it was a great platform but moving forward we need to see how we can improve that. We were delighted with the success of the two-year campaign and we will welcome any new campaign coming to the fore.
Ms Nora Stapleton
I would add a point about the targeted approach to participants and who campaigns are targeting. The 20x20 campaign was a fantastic visibility campaign. We applauded it and it gave everybody a common message and common voice when it came to the visibility of women's sport. We have spoken a lot about teenage girls today. That is an area that we are keen to emphasise a lot more next year. Our Adolescent Girls Get Active project is based on the research mentioned earlier, which we launched during the year. We currently have four teenage girls programmes piloting across Ireland in our local sports partnership and they are modelled off the research that came out of that Adolescent Girls Get Active report. Those pilot projects are being evaluated and will help us decide whether the way those projects were formed, including the physical activities within them, reflects the ethos of the key principles in the report, and if they have changed girls' attitudes towards physical activity and sport. That is a key thing we are hoping to measure. We have secured funding from the Dormant Accounts Fund, which will create a brand identity that will go with those projects. Our aim is to build the number of teenage girls programmes running across the country as part of the local sports partnerships, but possibly with NGBs as well. They should be inclusive and provide that welcoming environment for girls and have that national brand in order that girls can really see it and have it be visible to them so they are excited to be part of that physical activity programme. That is the aim for that project next year as we look to create a brand identity that will make it visible for teenage girls.
We have run out of time but perhaps Senator Carrigy has a final question or comment.
I have a quick question. Schools were mentioned. That is the area to target for participation, and secondary schools in particular. Do the witnesses have any statistics with regard to female participation across secondary schools throughout the country?
Dr. Una May
Participation in schools is the children's sport and physical activity research that we are about to embark on. The data we have at the moment are a few years old. That research collects data about the participation of children and young people. Our Irish sports monitor covers data for people aged 16 and older but younger age groups' participation in school sports, after-school sports and what we refer to as community sports, that is, clubs and activities outside of school, will all be gathered in those data.
The Senator raised the publication of the reviews by the IRFU. Obviously, we would prefer to see those reviews published. It is important to note that Sport Ireland funds the sevens and from that point of view we would expect that report to be published and we would expect to have an influence on the decision whether to publish it. However, the IRFU is the main funder of the women's 15s team so we would have less of a role to play.
We would be very interested in the possibility of a new campaign. As is obvious from our presentations today, much of the work we have been doing is about building a structure and infrastructure in sport that supports women's participation. We are coming closer to a situation where we can see the value in a further campaign. We have run a number of specific campaigns, such as the teenage girls ones Ms Stapleton mentioned. Next spring, we will start on the research for another new campaign, in partnership with the Department of Health, around physical activity for older women. We also ran HER Outdoors campaign. We identified from our research that women have enjoyed participating in the outdoors, as we were driven to do during the pandemic. They enjoyed participation in the outdoors and we have promoted opportunities and options to be active in many different outdoor activities through that campaign. I hope that answers some of those additional questions.
I thank the witnesses and I thank Senator Carrigy for his questions. I have a comment and an observation. A few weeks ago we had a very insightful discussion about referees and the treatment and lack of respect they face, such as the hostility they can meet in field games from spectators, players and parents. I asked the three organisations that were before the committee about the gender balance of referees who officiate these games. We did not get exact numbers but Ms O'Connor answered that question in her presentation when she stated: "In Ireland, 51% of women have never volunteered for sport. Those who do volunteer are less likely than men to coach, referee or be a club official." In that vein, have the witnesses conducted any research, interviews or surveys with those females who do participate as referees about how they feel?
Do they feel safe on a pitch when it comes to refereeing or have they experienced that lack of respect and hostility? Is that a barrier in encouraging women to officiate over games? As Ms O’Connor has already answered this question somewhat in her presentation, I will go to her first for a response.
Ms Mary O'Connor
The most popular thing you can do in any sport is to play and the next popular thing to do possibly is the coaching. The least popular thing is always a throw-up between officiating or a chairpersonship because they can be difficult at times. Not to be flippant about it but research in respect of female participation, in particular around refereeing and officiating, has been undertaken. It is something about which more developed work needs to be completed. I am aware that Ms Stapleton has started some work on that but I have mentioned previously that from a coaching point of view, we need to start the talent identification of individuals, be they administrators, referees or coaches, from a young age. We have also mentioned third level sport and the governance that they may also have in that regard. This talent identification will provide them with the opportunity to go along a pathway to ensure they will be upskilled and supported because, as I outlined at the very start of my statement, the reports tell us it is sometimes a question of confidence when it comes to women and girls in sport taking up any position, be it as a referee officiating and so on. More work needs to be done in that regard but I am sure that Ms Stapleton will have more detail on this point.
Before I move on, does Ms O’Connor have any research to hand on how women who are referees feel when participating in that role?
Ms Mary O'Connor
The Federation of Irish Sport represents 81 national governing bodies in sport and it is not something on which we have asked them to comment in the past. Now that the Chair has raised the question, it is probably something that we could do. I am sure that Ms Stapleton has started work in that regard.
It would be interesting to see if that is one of the barriers that has prevented so many women taking part because we got some idea from some of the organisations of the very low numbers participating, which they have done there. Ms Stapleton may have some insight on this issue.
Ms Nora Stapleton
I am not sure I have but I will try to answer. It is important to note that until recently, there was no overarching body within Ireland to support referee development other than what the sports do themselves. Sport Ireland coaching has recently taken on the role of helping sports to create the referee pathway. Some of the larger sports have very good pathways in place but, as pointed out by the Chair, they have low numbers of female referees and it varies across each of the organisations. We have not done in-depth research on this but there are fewer female referees than there are those coaching, if, for example, one is looking at ratios of male to female. Through the Women in Sport funding programme of national governing bodies, NGBs, many of those bodies have included particular programmes and initiatives targeting females in umpiring, officiating and refereeing. There are a number of these including everything from hockey through to such sports as table tennis, basketball etc. Many of them offer young referee courses also such as young whistlers, which helps, as Ms O’Connor pointed out, in trying to introduce people to refereeing from a much earlier age. The LGFA, has established its referee academy and the IRFU has plans for that, also. There is work in progress in this space. I mentioned Sport Ireland coaching but it is also piloting a current referee workshop for some of those sports to help curate what a resource might look like to support sports in how they develop their referee pathway.
Finally, has Sport Ireland any research to show if women who take on that role feel safe in such participation? Have they experienced any hostility or lack of respect because that certainly has been the case for some men and it has to be the experience also of some of those women who take on this role? Is there any research to identify that?
Ms Nora Stapleton
There is no current research other than what some of the sports organisations themselves have done. Many of the sports which have applied for funding towards referee initiatives in their sports have done their own research on that issue. There is some such research there that we may be able to collate.
Our long-term aim is to replicate much of what we have done with coaching and to take a similar approach for refereeing. In the same way as we did our Women in Sport Coaching Research report, we will repeat that exercise work for officiators. We are waiting until Sport Ireland coaching establishes its referee or officiator support services and then we will link closely with that unit, with which I work, in order to establish what our plans will then be for refereeing. The aim is to replicate much of what we have done for coaching because there may be similar attitudes, as may be the case and as has been pointed out by the Chair there, in how referees feel.
If it is possible in the future and if any research has been done, it would be very interesting to hear about that. Does Dr. May wish to come in here briefly?
Dr. Una May
I wanted to mention the fact, which is not specific to women in sport, that Sport Ireland is currently working on a project on values in sport. We are doing and developing some workshops and toolkits on establishing good practice in sport and it is our intention that this is something that will impact on the behaviours on and off the field, apart from actual sports participation issues that are arising, thereby tackling some of these issues, such as the refereeing problems we are having.
I suppose many of our meeting participants are familiar with Maggie Farrelly and the significant achievements she has had as a female referee in County Cavan and further afield.
I thank all the witnesses for their presentations. It is great to see Ms Nora Stapleton there because both of my daughters idolised her when she was working with Ballinteer St. Johns GAA. Ms Stapleton is probably still greatly responsible for the fact that they still play football and camogie. I know, at first hand, how lucky Sport Ireland is to have her in that role.
In the view of our guests, do they feel that the weighting of funding for female participation needs to be increased?
Ms Mary O'Connor
I thank Deputy Andrews for his question. This is not something that I have given in-depth consideration to before today. Women in sport funding has increased in the past number of years and that has to be welcomed. I have spoken in the past about historical inequity in the investment in women in sport and I am very much a person who is solution-focused on the future. As I said in my submission today in the last paragraph, there has been a significant impact made by the Women in Sport policy in having a dedicated resource and having someone who is as excellent as Ms Stapleton is in delivering on that. At this stage we need to look ahead to see what the policy has and whether we can ensure that all the actions in that policy are financially resourced in order that they can be delivered upon. Any policy is only ever going to be evaluated on what its outputs are and that is the most important thing for me.
Does Dr. May have any comments on this question?
Dr. Una May
Briefly, just to say that Sport Ireland’s philosophy has generally been to not use the stick that we have, which is funding, and we are very careful about retaining that as a tool in our armoury for the worst-case scenarios. However, the concept of weighting funding is a different matter and there are innovative ways in which we can incentivise, if I can put it like that, better practices within the NGBs without having to resort to cutting funding. This is something that we can continue to monitor as options going forward. It is very good that we see innovative opportunities and solutions like that.
Finally, Ms Stapleton wants to have the last word on this.
Ms Nora Stapleton
I thank Deputy Andrews. It is good to see him again and I hope that his two girls are doing well. They are very good camogie players.
It is important to remember that the Women in Sport funding that goes to NGBs is not the only funding that is ring-fenced for these bodies. That is a particular programme which helps support additional programmes and initiatives as an add-on to what they are already currently doing in their sport. It probably comes back, however, to the culture within the sports themselves to ensure how that funding together with the overall pot of funding is used. This can be done either equitably or if there is an equal division there between the male and female sports participants the whole way up through whatever areas of the particular part of their game where it might be needed. That may be in coaching, in leadership or in participation programmes. It might be also worth adding in that sports sometimes lead and administer women’s sport without having a full understanding of what is needed to get the best from that sport.
It is really important to have a female presence at senior management level so there will be knowledge and an understanding of women’s sports in running sport in the national governing body or local sports partnerships. There are different needs and levels of understanding, and there are requests that may simply be different because male and female athletes and coaches are different. It is about respecting that difference, celebrating it where it should be celebrated and ensuring everybody in the sports community can be facilitated and supported in having life-long involvement in sport.
I thank Ms Stapleton, and I thank Deputy Andrews for his line of questioning.
I thank the three witnesses, who have made insightful and comprehensive presentations on a topic that has very broad appeal among committee members. I thank the members for their participation. This is the end of this term’s committee hearings. It thank the witnesses for their deep engagement with the committee so far. I wish everyone a very happy and peaceful Christmas.