TRUE equality does not mean treating everyone in the room the same.
Equality is getting the opportunity to achieve the same outcome as everyone else in the room.
That was the powerful message from world-class soccer coach Lisa Fallon, one of the keynote speakers in the first of the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s new webinar series on equality in sport.
The opening theme was equality in coaching and also featured Bernard Dunne (High Performance Director of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA)), Sally Corscadden (the Eventing Performance Director with Horse Sport Ireland) and Sally Johnson (Performance lead with Gymnastics Ireland) in the first of a series of Zoom conferences moderated by broadcaster Mark Cagney.
Fallon, who has worked with Cork City, the Northern Ireland men’s team and Chelsea’s Superleague side, is now head coach of London City Lionesses and related her transition to the upper echelons of a sport and occupation that is predominantly male.
She experienced some sexism but stressed it “wasn’t my overwhelming experience” and said that “equality is about being given the opportunity to achieve the same outcome as those around you and sometimes that means treating people differently.
“Creating change can initially feel a little difficult, but the more you do things differently the more normal that feels and that is how to effect change,” Fallon said.
Bernard Dunne said Katie Taylor’s London Olympics’ gold medal had prompted a surge of female athletes into their sport but the IABA’s challenge now is to translate that into more female coaches.
He believes the key is to find a way to marry the expertise of high performance coaches with women currently coaching at lower levels and the IABA is working on developing that pathway.
The IABA is also actively encouraging their current elite female athletes to simultaneously gain some coaching experience which they hope will keep them in the sport as future coaches.
Sally Corscadden said that confidence is a huge factor in becoming coaches and that, in a gender neutral sport like eventing, competing on the same stage means women are imbued with the confidence to pursue coaching and leadership roles.
However she said that working with the Institute of Sport had “opened my eyes” to the fact that some female athletes may need to be coached differently than their male colleagues.
Sally Johnson said ambition and confidence was vital to her progression into coaching and high performance roles and the challenge in her sport is to address the inverse imbalance because 85 per cent of gymnastics’ participants are female.
Lisa Fallon said that for change to happen sports leaders and administrators need to examine and understand their own unconscious biases and perceptions
“Perception is very individual and sometimes you have to see things a different way to achieve your coaching goals,” she said.
“If you’re going to effect change in your organisation it shouldn’t be about ‘being different’. The question you should ask is ‘can you give a different person the opportunity?’ Once I was given opportunities the only thing I did then was my job.”
OFI President Sarah Keane said that in her experience “most people are actually eager and want to support gender balance and want to make change, but the challenge is often about how you do it.
“Through this series of webinars, you’re going to hear from some outstanding leaders in sport, both in Ireland and further afield, and we hope and know they will inspire you. We also intend that they will give you some concrete ideas and examples of how to achieve gender parity within your own organisation.”