By Martha Brennan
As the inter – county GAA calendar drew to a close earlier this month, with the women’s Gaelic football final finishing off a spectacular summer of Irish sport, we were once again reminded of the stunning gap between men and women’s sporting coverage in Ireland.
The ladies’ finals once again garnered only a fraction of the coverage of the men’s, with 50,141 tickets being sold for the women’s football final compared with the sellout 82,300 for the men’s decider.
While the attendance for women’s GAA matches is growing, and sponsorship for the teams is improving, the wide line between the female players and their male counterparts just doesn’t seem to be shrinking.
Every year the women of the GAA come onto that pitch and show us exactly why they deserve our attention. Take for instance the stellar performances in this year’s camogie final, the Cork and Kilkenny ladies took belts to the head, whacks to the face guard and most walked wounded off the pitch after the one point decider; yet just over 300,000 people tuned in to see the action on TV, compared to the one million viewers who watched Limerick win Liam MacCarthy in August.
Critics have increasingly been putting forward the idea that perhaps instead of underage teams preluding the men’s All – Ireland finals, it should be the women.
And indeed, earlier this year eight ladies’ football national league games were played before men’s’ games – further evidence that there exists a pathway for our women to perform in front of big crowds – but come on. Isn’t the idea of women opening for the men just an irony waiting to happen?
SIN spoke to Cork camogie star Linda Collins about the idea this week.
“I don’t think it would be a great idea,” Collins says. “To start with, the men’s finals are usually sell outs so this could mean that some of the dedicated camogie supporters who have been there all year may not be able to get tickets to the game.”
“I think the men’s day is the men’s day and the women’s day is the women’s. They both hold equal importance.”
“The women play all year to get to Croke Park to be the main event, and the men are the same.”
The problem with the attendance and coverage gaps between women’s GAA matches and men’s isn’t one of skill, or entertainment value, it’s the immediate comparison between the two and women’s sport suffers as a consequence.
Would putting them on the same day really aid this? And, as Collins points out, why force people to watch if they didn’t sign up for it?
“If people want to support the women they will,” she tells SIN. “We really appreciate all the support we get and our supporters always come out in their numbers, but we’re not going to force people to watch camogie if they don’t want to.”
She also points out that having the men’s game following the women could take away from them. People can argue that women aren’t as strong, or as fast, but one thing we can all agree on as far as ladies GAA, they aren’t as flashy.
They can’t be.
No one will be shocked to learn that women’s sport is severely under-funded compared to men’s.
This year not one woman made the Forbes 100 list of highest paid athletes, and when Arsenal won the men’s and women’s FA Cup tournaments, the men received £1.8 million in prize money whereas the women received just £5000. The current state of GAA is an echo of this.
To put it into localised terms: a two-year agreement commenced in 2017 to grant the Women’s GPA, the Camogie Association, and the LGFA a total of €500,000 combined per annum – whereas the men’s Dublin football team alone was able to spend €1.46 million in 2017.
All Star Mags D’Arcy spoke about this to the42 saying; “It’s just the way it is. It is a crying shame because we have so many resources, why don’t we just put it all under one umbrella?”
“All the infrastructure is there, all the resources are there, financially it’s there.”
We’re all aware that there isn’t as much attention given to women’s sport but when you hear that three quarters of our population didn’t watch one female sporting event last year, it’s shocking.
As is the fact that a Ladies senior final in Limerick was rescheduled to 9am because of a men’s tag rugby tournament. And that a women’s senior championship semi-final had to be lit up by car headlights this year because they wouldn’t turn on the floodlights.
If you stop to process that a Ladies All-Ireland final was rescheduled because the men needed a replay, you really start to think that enough is enough.
Today, the law recognises that women should be treated fairly and equally. Social attitudes should reflect this too. It’s time for the GAA to catch up.
The women don’t need to open up for the men to get attention. They have proved again and again that they can put on a show on their own merit.
Once they are being treated fairly by their own association, maybe their perspective audiences will realise this.