Summary: OFI Gender Equality in Sport Series

Where are the women? What do we mean by 'equality'?

What are our own subconscious biases and how do we activate and accelerate change?

These were the strong, recurring themes in the Olympic Federation of Ireland’s (OFI) recent four-part webinar series on gender equality in sport.
It uniquely featured leading voices on equality and diversity from the worlds of Irish business, diplomacy, the military and sports media, and attracted an audience of over 500 participants from home and abroad during the month of July.

Equality in sport was scrutinised under four themes - coaching, leadership, governance and portrayal - and world class soccer expert Lisa Fallon, now head coach of London Lionesses, set the agenda right from the off.

“Equality isn’t about treating everyone the same, it is about the state of being equal,” she stressed.
“Equality is about giving everyone the opportunity to achieve the same outcomes as those around them, which sometimes means treating people differently.”

Dr Jennifer Cassidy, a lecturer in global governance and diplomacy at the University of Oxford, also hit the nub of the matter in the ‘leadership’ session by asking “where are the women?” Creating gender equality is not just about balancing the numbers and ratio of female/male members on boards and committees, she said, but, most importantly, examining what positions of power the women hold.

Deirdre Carbery describes sport as a vehicle for change.
Tokyo 2020 Team Ireland Chef de Mission Tricia Heberle

The OFI’s Hon General Secretary Sarah O’Shea looked at the currently imbalanced gender ratio in Irish sports’ boards -  29% female, 24% female CEOs, 12% female chairpersons – and revealed that, when quotas were previously suggested in Irish political circles, 48 of submissions from sporting bodies said they would be problematic because their rules and constitutions would need to be altered.

OFI Hon General Secretary Sarah O'Shea - Governance
Professor Niamh Brennan discusses governance

She said more women can be helped into positions of influence and decision-making by strategies like co-option, waterfall election procedures and cross-gender mentoring and that sporting bodies must also be willing to review their constitutions.

OFI President Sarah Keane

Clíona O’Leary, Deputy Head of RTE TV Sport and Chair of the European Broadcasting Union’s Women in Sport Expert Group, said “I don’t know anybody who intentionally goes out to create gender inequality in sport."
She explained how RTE television, since 2013, is actively addressing the gender inequality in its sports coverage.

They have a 20 per cent target in terms of female content, journalists, expert analysts and training workshops (outreach) but still face difficulties because of the lack of footage (historic or current), even from international wire agencies.

She offered practical suggestions as to how sporting bodies can collaborate with media bodies to improve things and stressed that most of the inequity tends to be in team sports.

That was echoed by sports journalist Clíona Foley, who outlined how sport, even the Olympics which will have 49 % female participation rates for Tokyo, is historically a male construct.

She outlined the still considerable gender imbalance within the sports media and said that for change to continue and accelerate, everyone in sport needs to examine their language and subconscious bias and also challenge traditional ‘custom and practice’ in sports coverage.

Olympic Federation CEO Peter Sherrard said the OFI is very conscious that “the Olympic movement didn’t start off equal so we have a duty to unpick history and restore equality.” This is a key moment, he said, for continued, strategic action, not just words.

OFI President Sarah Keane said:

“Nobody gets off the hook. Gender equality is something that has to be part of every organisation’s strategy and discussed at its highest level of decision-making,” something that is now being done by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

“Team Ireland is a national effort,” she concluded. “We need to have the best of everything and that includes the right people, regardless of their gender. To ensure we get the right people we must look at diversity and gender in our governance.”


This was also echoed by two of OFI’s major sponsors. Andrea Bland of FBD Insurance said “Olympic medals are of equal value to all,” and Eadaoin Keane of Circle K said “a medal winner is a medal winner, regardless of gender.”


*This series was part-funded by Sport Ireland’s ‘Women in Sport’ initiative and the contributors also included Patricia Heberle (Chef de Mission Tokyo 2020), Bernard Dunne (High Performance Director (HPD) of  Irish Amateur Boxing),  Sally Corscadden (Eventing HPD of Horse Sport Ireland), Sally Johnson (High Performance lead,  Gymnastics Ireland), Deirdre Carbery (security strategist and gender advisor for World Health Innovation Summit), Niamh Brennan (founder and Academic Director of UCD’s Centre for Corporate Governance) and Nicci Daly (current Irish Hockey international and founder of ‘Formula Female’, a women in motorsport initiative).

WATCH FULL SERIES:

Playlist for the OFI Gender Equality in Sport Online Series

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