Barriers to women in sport must be removed in Northern Ireland, council meeting says

Leading women in Northern Ireland sport have criticized the “inherent gender bias” that acts as a barrier to young women and stunts the growth of elite athletes.

The special meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council on the development of women in sport also revealed that the centralization of facilities in Belfast and Dublin creates many challenges for young women living in remote areas.

Orlach Watters, interim head of sports systems at Sport NI, said there were no female boxers in the 2008 Olympics and 34% of rowing competitors were women. Fast forward to 2020 when men and women representing their countries in rowing were split 50/50 and 35% of boxers were women.

However, only 31% of sports board members in New York State are women. For coaches it is 25%, for officials 38% and club membership is 36% female despite 55% of women saying they are involved in sports and physical activity.

Looking at women’s participation in the top 12 sports, women make up about 32%. In football, cricket and rugby this figure drops to 8%.

According to Ms. Watters, women should be at the top of the table, shaping policies to achieve greater female representation.

“You can’t name a single permanent director in Ireland. Whenever I looked at camogie managers in Ulster, looked through all the districts, I could find one woman – one woman – leading these women’s teams, ”she explained.

“On the premier’s women’s teams, out of seven, I could find one woman, Gayle Redmond, paving the way for women. We are not represented at this highest level.”

Ms. Watters added: “I would like everyone in this room to stop today and think about what your inherent bias is.

“What prejudice do you carry with you? I sat and talked about camo teams, county teams, rowing teams, stage directors – can anyone really imagine an entire female backroom team leading a Derry County football team, or a Northern Ireland football team, or any male command? equivalents?

“Derry Girl” Megan Fraser played for and captained the Irish International Hockey Team.

At the age of 18, she entered the University of Maryland in the USA, where she played hockey at the elite level, and also played in Germany, England and now coaches at the University of Ulster.

She talked about the financial burden on young players and their families who have to travel to Belfast and Dublin to train and compete.

Extensive travel also influenced her studies and social life.

The nearest premier league team is in Ballymoney and as part of the underage teams players must travel to Dublin.

As much as she loves her hometown, Ms. Fraser said that “taking the next step towards high performance is difficult” if you’re from Derry.

She saw firsthand the gap that exists between the sports facilities available to young women in the United States compared to those who live in Northern Ireland.

Funding did not come directly to the athletes until they won a silver medal at the 2018 World Championships.

The worst point for her was an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury and she was “absolutely devastated” by missing out on Olympic selection and didn’t pick up a hockey stick for months.

Over time, her love for the sport was revived through coaching. She just got a job as a coach at Stanford University in California and will be heading there in August.

“Because of this inherent bias in the sport…there were women fighting backstage all the time, and as players on the field, we don’t really realize how much is going on out there,” Ms. Frazier said.

“Now that I’m getting a little older, I feel it’s my duty to take part in this fight and continue to be more involved.”

‘Women in Sport’ Sport Ireland Chief Executive and former Ireland International Rugby Team Nora Stapleton spoke about the expansion of the coaching base and the importance of visibility.

Derry City Council and Straban District Council were urged to take the lead in changing the face of sport for the next generation of women by adopting the Women in Sports Strategy.

Local deputies fully supported these proposals.

People Before Profit advisor Maeve O’Neill said it was a “real honor” to welcome Nora Stapleton and Megan Fraser, who are “two superstars” in the world of women’s sports.

Ms. O’Neill, a keen athlete herself, said she had proposed making a proposal for women’s representation in women’s sports in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of Derry City Women’s Football Club, a team she was part of at the outset.

“A lot has changed for women compared to playing sports 20 years ago. I don’t think it’s more acceptable for us to change in the toilets when there are no changing rooms or showers, or even to change behind the changing rooms because they didn’t bother to open them for women’s games.”

However, she said there is a “legacy of underinvestment in women’s sports” that needs to be addressed.

She concluded that women’s sports could challenge gender norms and empower women in many ways.

SDLP board member Brian Tierney said the board has a role to play in the design of entertainment centers to make sure they are user friendly and inspire confidence in women.

He agreed that a change in thinking and policy was needed.