“We’ve got to break this cycle.”
For a stretch of days and nights, last autumn, Brian O’Driscoll pored through a book about female sports stars from Ireland, with his children Sadie and Billy. His son followed the stories closely, but Sadie was rapt.
She must have been too young to remember stepping out onto the Lansdowne Road pitch, back in March 2014, and being in her father’s arms as he waved goodbye to his playing days in front of an adoring Irish public.
Sadie O’Driscoll, who recently welcomed another young brother, Ted, to the world may one day take in a similar ovation, or she may find a completely different path in life. But her father is delighted that she has so many female sports stars from Ireland that are finally getting their dues, and a bit of the spotlight too.
The former Ireland and Lions captain spoke with Eimear Considine on House of Rugby Ireland (LISTEN from 12:00 below) about how it is up to the men of this country to take up the baton that was the successful 20×20 campaign and get behind women’s sport.Brian O’Driscoll was speaking at a 2020 announcement of Guinness’ increased support for the Ireland Women’s rugby team. (Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
“It’s about time that the women’s game has seen some promotion,” says Brian O’Driscoll.
“In women’s sport, in general, there has been nothing close to parity, in terms of coverage but yet the participation levels – with women’s rugby in particular – have been incredible. Rugby is one of the fastest growing women’s sports across the world.”
As the 20×20 movement, which aimed to increase coverage and participation in women’s sport in Ireland, wound down, late last year, O’Driscoll was invited along to speak about what the next steps could be, to follow on from that successful campaign.
“Women are promoting and pushing the rock downhill – preaching to the converted – with other women,” O’Driscoll told Considine. “I think the responsibility lies with men to promote it.
Stephanie Roche (No.15) and Katie Taylor playing for Ireland against Kazakhstan in 2009. (Credit: Sportsfile)
“And it’s frustrating because of course there’s kick-back from other men, who don’t want to change the status quo and that like the idea of media coverage being male-centric. But, as the father of a daughter, it’s important that they have visibility, role models and that they have aspirational individuals to look up to. That’s what you are looking for – that visibility. Why would 20×20 be a moment and then be lost thereafter? You have to – and we have to, as males – pick up where the women have started, and promote it.
“Because we’re fathers of daughters, and do we want more for our sons than we do our daughters? Nonsense. I want them to aspire to being great models themselves. To be people like yourself, Sene Naoupu, Claire Molloy – all these girls that have done special things for the Irish women’s rugby team. Or if they want to be the next Leona Maguire, Stephanie Roche or Katie Taylor. We’ve got to promote women’s sport and have it visible for our daughters to aspire to be that next great generation of Irish sportswomen.”
When Eimear Considine, who plays her rugby with Munster and Ireland, noted how much the support of a high-profile Irish sports-star like O’Driscoll was getting behind the women’s game, he replied:
“Do you know what, Eimear? We, as men, never really understood the differences, because we didn’t have to worry about it. Because we were getting the up-side to it. And all the small things that have become apparent to me since I started doing some research about it. My wife was telling me that her school didn’t have a half-day on a Wednesday, to play sport, because that just wasn’t a thing. And I know that’s gone a long time, but that’s what you’re dealing with, straight off the bat.
“Situations with girls’ games, in co-ed schools, being blown up a couple of minutes early so the boys can get out onto the park and warm-up beforehand. Or there’s two matches at the same time and the boys get precedence over the girls for the better pitch. Like, that’s outrageous in the world that we now live in, and that has to change. And the only people that will change it, massively, will be men.
“And I talk about the kick-back. I had someone, really annoyingly, when I took a picture of Jacqui Hurley’s book, Girls Play Too. I’ve been reading it with my daughter and then taking tests to see if she can remember all the individuals. But then someone makes the comment – ‘Oh, I see the Feminazis have gotten hold of you’. We’ve got to break this cycle.
“And until more people talk about it, promote it and… the reality is, it’s probably going to be fathers of daughters. Shane Lowry did it in the Irish Open where he wore the 20×20 logo. And we want the best for all of our children, irrespective of whether they are boys or girls. And that’s the next step in trying to promote women’s sport.”
Some significant steps have been taken over the past decade with regards to women’s sport in Ireland. We were seeing, before the Covid-19 pandemic, how participation and attendance numbers were on a steady rise.
Once life, and sporting life, gets back to something resembling normality, one hopes that drive will continue and that our female sports stars get the push they deserve.
YOU CAN WATCH THAT FULL EPISODE HERE:
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Season 3 has returned with Ian Madigan & Eimear Considine as hosts, and has already featured interviews with Brian O’Driscoll, Nigel Owens, Sean Cronin, Shane Williams, Mike Brown, CJ Stander, Ugo Monye, Sene Naoupu, Schalk Burger, Dan Leo, James Lowe, Marcell Coetzee, Ciaran Griffin and Ian Keatley.