IN ALL FAIRNESS - Ladies are slowly levelling the playing field

When it comes to one of the most progressive sporting organisations in the country, the Ladies Gaelic Football Association is right up there.

Like all sporting bodies, they aren’t infallible in making blunders, such as last years All Ireland semi-final debacle involving Cork and Galway. However, as new Tipperary manager Declan Carr suggested in an interview in the Irish Independent last Saturday, that the venue and throw-in issues made national headlines shows just how far the game has come. Previously, something like that wouldn’t have made much of a dent in national media coverage but the growth of women’s sport over the last decade ensured it was an issue that couldn’t be downplayed.

Last year saw an end to the 20x20 campaign “If she can’t see it, she can’t be it” which aimed to make women’s sport a bigger part of Irish culture by making it more visible. The campaign had three targets to reach by the end of 2020, 20% more coverage of women in sport; 20% more female participation at player, coach, referee & administrative level, and 20% more attendance at women’s games and events. While they didn’t manage to hit the three targets, awareness of women’s sport has never been greater.

Prior to the campaign, just 4% of online coverage and 3% of print coverage was dedicated to women’s sport. By the end of 2019, each of these had grown to 5% for online and 6% for print. However, TV coverage of women’s sport saw a 40% decrease in the same period, even though coverage of women’s sport, particularly soccer, ladies football and camogie grew across both RTÉ and TG4. Despite the decline in coverage, the audience of women’s sport on TV grew from 7% in 2018 to 18% in 2019. Participation grew by 13% while attendance in women’s sport increased by 17%.

Research also showed that 80% of adults - rising to 84% of men - said they are more aware of women’s sport, than before the movement launched. Of those aware of the 20x20 campaign, 73% - rising to 75% of men - say that it changed their mindset positively towards girls and women in sport, with 68% stating they support women in sport more because of 20x20, and 42% of women saying they now participate in more sport.

Despite this progress though, women’s sport still lags far behind men’s sport when it comes to participation, attendance, and media coverage.

Having a big sponsor is a big help in trying to bridge the gap and it’s no surprise that ladies gaelic football, the fastest growing female participation sport in the country, have massive support from Lidl, in not only sponsoring the national leagues, but also producing high profile advertising campaigns. In 2016, it’s first campaign was focused on generating more support and in tandem with TG4’s outstanding coverage they have got that, leading to the All-Ireland Ladies Football finals of 2018 and 2019 being the largest attended female sporting event in Europe in those years.

Last week, the LGFA and Lidl released a new online campaign, entitled “Level the Playing Field” and it couldn’t have been more powerful. You may have seen the ad as this stage where players, including Tipperary’s Aishling Moloney (which is great to see as she is one of the best players in the country), playing a game on a pitch on a hillside with the attacking moves constantly breaking down with the ball rolling back down hill, before they finally crack it with a juvenile player finishing the ball to the net.

LGFA, and women’s sport in general, have come along way but there is still a long way to go. While it may have been a UK occurrence, last weekend Aston Villa ladies league match was postponed due to an unplayable pitch, yet they couldn’t get access to Villa Park even though it was available as the men’s team didn’t have a home game, despite them being the same club.

Playing in larger venues isn’t an issue right now as the spectator numbers, while improving, still aren’t where they need to be. The Republic of Ireland still haven’t been able to fill Tallaght Stadium for their internationals, the same as the ladies rugby team at Donnybrook, so they are still some time away from requiring the Aviva Stadium but that will come I have no doubt.

If right was right, the Tipperary senior camogie team shouldn’t be playing league or championship matches at the Ragg, not because of anything to do with the venue, but because it is not sufficient to cope with crowds, but unfortunately camogie and ladies football are not there yet either in terms of getting more people through the turnstiles on a regular basis.

For that to happen it needs more mams and dads bringing their daughters to see female players in the flesh. Declan Carr’s selection as the new Tipperary ladies football manager will have surprised many, primarily because of his hurling background. However, as a father of five daughters, they began attending the Tipperary ladies matches in recent years as a family, and he got as much enjoyment out of it as he would watching the senior hurling team play. If the Carr’s can do it, everyone can!

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