It’s Time to End Gender Inequality in Sport

Last week, English Boxer Billy Joe Saunders caused a “Twitter Storm” when he made disparaging comments about Irish Boxer, Katie Taylor. Saunders remarked that women like Taylor (and women in general), were merely “…for sex every night; hard sex. Cleaning, cooking, washing, and sex.” Naturally, his comments were met negatively, as Saunders was rightly ridiculed for his sexist remarks, and forced to make a deserving apology. Although he did (eventually) admit that he actually admired Taylor’s athleticism, this does not discount his initial response. In fact, it emphasises the immensity of the issue surrounding the treatment and representations of female sports players in Ireland.

Katie Taylor -
Katie Taylor

While Saunders’s overt sexism was immediately met with outrage, it’s ironic that the coverage of the incident actually garnered more attention than Katie’s recent achievements. According to her website, Taylor is, at this present time, “the reigning Irish, European, World and Olympic boxing Champion (…) generally recognised as pound for pound the best female boxer in the World.” Yet, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that since the 2012 Olympics, there has been an anti-climatic air to her success. It seems like the Irish media are happy to portray that achievement as the pinnacle of her career when, in fact, it could be seen as a starting point. In an interview with the Irish Independent, Taylor noted RTÉ’s lack of support for boxing, stating that they seemed to be more interested in GAA and rugby coverage. While she referred to boxing as a whole, she also emphasised that the “coverage of female fights is particularly poor.” Somehow, most media outlets appeared to be blissfully unaware of the issue Taylor was talking about.

This disparity in support can also be seen through the hype surrounding UFC fighter (and posterboy), Conor McGregor. While this article is certainly not about knocking McGregor and his achievements (I myself am a fan), it’s obvious that there is a clear preference for this male athlete, who embodies the hegemonic masculine ideal. RTÉ Sport’s tweet about Taylor’s win of the lightweight gold medal at the European Games in Baku was only favourited 141 times, while Taylor’s own tweet about McGregor received 470. Unfortunately, McGregor mania seems to be pushing Taylor’s athleticism aside.

Naturally, Taylor isn’t the only woman, and boxing isn’t the only sport, affected by this issue. The likes of the women’s Irish rugby team aren’t immune from the gender divide either. Even in times of failure, the immense support for the men’s rugby team has never abated. It’s virtually impossible to avoid the endless stream of #COYBIG statuses and tweets on match days. Sure, people love to show their unwavering support for their country’s team, but what about the women? Maybe #COYGIG just doesn’t have the same ring to it… Or maybe, these women are simply being ignored just for being women.

rugby -
The women’s Irish rugby team secure the Six Nations

The recent and striking success of the women’s rugby team makes this lack of support even more disheartening. This year, their Six Nations win went virtually undocumented, while the national support for their male counterparts was (of course) immense. Rugby fans flock to the Aviva in their thousands to watch the men play, while their female counterpart’s matches are held in Ashbourne F.C – a rather underwhelming venue in comparison.

But the size of the pitch isn’t the only thing increasing the divide between sporting men and women – it’s the size of their pay cheques… Which, in the case of the women’s rugby team, is nonexistent. Seeing as the team is completely amateur, its players receive no payment at all. Contrasting this, last year it was revealed that vice-captain of the men’s team, Jamie Heaslip, was to “receive a pay rise to take his earnings up to between €500,000 and €530,000 per annum.” And people still say the wage gap doesn’t exist… [pullquote]This gross and needless inequality clearly suggests that the men’s team is somehow more important, more valued, and more worthy of our attention. Really, we should be paying attention to the women who are so dedicated to a sport that doesn’t even seem to think they deserve a wage.[/pullquote] This gross and needless inequality clearly suggests that the men’s team is somehow more important, more valued, and more worthy of our attention. Really, we should be paying attention to the women who are so dedicated to a sport that doesn’t even seem to think they deserve a wage. We should pay attention to the women who can’t even make full-time careers out of their talents. We should pay attention to the women whose achievements have matched (if not risen above) their male counterparts in recent years. Surely, they deserve better.

That’s not to say that support doesn’t exist – it does – but it’s weak in comparison. In 2012, RTÉ were called out for not broadcasting any of the women’s fixtures. The claim that the women were “invisible and side-lined,” was justified by the fact that Irish Rugby Football Union’s (IRFU) website had made little or no attempt to represent its female players. Thankfully, if you look at the site today, this doesn’t seem to be the case. I suppose it only took them three years…

Awhile ago, I had the opportunity to chat to the former coach of the women’s team, Phillip Doyle, who told me about some more positive improvements that the union had made. His confirmation that the women’s coaching structure had been altered to create high performance sessions means that they (finally!) have access to the same equipment as the men. There was also a mention of these sessions, and matches, being moved to a bigger stadium – possibly Donnybrook – suggesting that the team has had an increase in support lately. As well as this, the emergence of the Women’s Sevens Series has created a semi-professional space for Irish players where they can actually receive payment for their hard work. Progression may be slow, but its progression, nonetheless.

Catherine McGourty -
Catherine McGourty

Finally, let’s talk briefly about the GAA. The issues within the GAA may not be as glaringly obvious as those of the IRFU – as the sport is actually semi-professional – but that doesn’t mean that inequality doesn’t exist. Last week, Camogie player Catherine McGourty expressed anger that despite winning the Camogie Poc Fada Ulster Championships in Down, she simply received a medal for her efforts – while her male counterpart (who played the exact same course) won a skiing holiday. This discrimination is as unsubtle as it is infuriating. Why should women receive less for the same achievements? Why is it assumed that nobody will question it? Thankfully, there has been a backlash, but whether a few harsh comments beneath a news article have the power to change anything is still up for debate.

Gender inequality is entrenched in every aspect of our society – there’s no doubt about that. But this unfairness in sport is particularly hard to break free from. Generally, both men and women take more interest in male oriented sports, and it is these sports that will continue to be given more coverage. I’m not saying that we should stop supporting all the men who dedicate themselves entirely to rugby, GAA or boxing. I’m not saying they’re not worthy of it… They are. But maybe we should consider giving the women the same attention. You can’t say they don’t deserve it.

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