Two weeks ago, the Women’s Irish Rugby Team defeated Japan in the second Irish fixture of The Women’s Rugby World Cup. After an unsteady first half with no points for the Irish team, the game turned around entirely and we beat Japan 24-14.
While Ireland hosting the Women’s Rugby World Cup is wonderful, the games were not pushed in a major way. Gerard Meagher, reporting for The Guardian, speaks of a “festival feel” at the sold-out events but he also describes how the pitches were difficult to find and that, upon being greeted at UCD, punters were automatically given directions for the Dublin Horse Show. He highlights the fact that the events – spread over only three days during which all 12 teams play on each day – is unambitious, considering interest in the games is increasing. The author is concerned with how Ireland is representing itself in its bid for the 2023 Men’s World Cup, yet he may not have to worry, since the tucked-away image he gives is reflective of a country hosting the women’s matches to facilitate some perceived greater sporting event. And of course the men’s world cup is the greater sporting event. It will generate more revenue and more traffic. And it will always be this way if we do not properly invest in women’s sport.
To add to this, the same nagging misconceptions about female engagement in sport have also been flying around recently. An article in the Independent stealthily embedded an evolutionary psychology argument under a heading purporting to be about how support from governments increases the number of women in sport. The research cited in the article minimises female interest in sport to spectating in order to find a male mate. A simpler approach may have been to ask the women who play sport professionally without pay or funding, who are committed to training and playing matches despite having a full time job and who must take annual leave to represent their country or county in fixtures, why they are so committed to the game.
Former Ireland international David Corkery also contributed his two cents on the first day of the Women’s Rugby World Cup. Instead of elevating his own sport, he belittled the women who are representing Irish rugby. Although Corkery assumes the tone of a benevolent and understanding parent, the issues he calls attention to carry his own prejudice. He says that he does “not like watching ladies knocking lumps out of each other” and that when he sees women partaking “in any kind of confrontation and aggressive behaviourisms, it just doesn’t sit right with [him].” After acknowledging how positive it is to see women’s sport encouraged and the difficulties faced by the Irish team, he says women’s rugby is unlikely to last unless it “can generate surplice [sic] revenue” or female athletes “will be viewed as unwanted baggage.” The loaded term “unwanted baggage” doesn’t rest comfortably with the supposedly objective, considerate tone he is trying to sell throughout the piece. While it is true that strong support will be needed to give women’s rugby a fighting chance when money is often the bottom line (particularly with defeatist attitudes like his own to combat) there is no need to lay under the common tautology “it is what it is.” A phrase carefully used when the speaker is too comfortable with things as they are to entertain any other possibility.
A couple of weeks ago, Lidl published a report on girls’ participation in sport. It found that girls who played sports showed higher levels of confidence, were more likely to have a better sense of well-being, felt more supported and were more likely to develop lifelong friendships. It also showed, however, that girls are three times more likely to drop out of sport than boys, and that 1 in 2 girls no longer participate in sports by the age of thirteen. It cited a lack of encouragement as a major contributor. It demonstrates that there is much more to be considered than the delicate sensibilities of those who are not ready for change. Lidl also said it is committing to supporting the Ladies Gaelic Football Association by donating €2.5 million to the organisation.
It’s time to dispense with the emotional arguments. There is no real reason to think of women as physiologically inferior or somehow naturally unsuited for sports. Common sense easily dispels these hereditary biases as contradictions if we are willing to challenge ourselves. How can we expect women to carry the weight of a child in her belly for months and still go about her daily life but fear women won’t have the stamina for a couple of hours of playing a match? How can we see women as too precious and delicate for sport when there are so many women going through the rigours of childbirth every day? When Corkery uses mock concern to chastise women in sport’s aggression, I wonder how concerned he is about the prevalence of male aggression towards women. He doesn’t seem outraged enough to make any public statements about protecting the ladies from male violence. What really gets his goat, it seems, is women being aggressive, rather than being on the receiving end of it. Unfortunately, violence against women, unlike a new focus on women’s sport, is nothing new and so perhaps fails to disrupt the comforting, everyday beige of life. His fear of people looking to “burn me at the stake” as a result of his comments is deliciously ironic. Maybe a look into the history books might expose the deceptiveness of his ire.
One can only hope that the players are undaunted by archaic attitudes that represent the final temper tantrums of a dying world view. It is always hardest to establish stable footing at the beginning but persistence is key. Claire Molloy said of the match against Japan, “They threw everything at us, all due respect. We were resilient and we got the result.”