Sports minister Catherine Martin is determined to see more women leaders in sport and reveals she is committed and dedicated to increasing the visibility of girls and women in sport.
Minister Martin told HerSport.ie she hopes the trend for increasing gender balance on sports boards will continue. The Minister of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media praised the 23 National Governing Bodies who have a 30% or higher gender balance already amongst their leaders.
“Obviously this is something I am going to keep a close eye on,” Martin said.
“I will be using every opportunity to highlight that for me this is a priority. I can lead by example in the appointments that I make to State Boards too. So I suppose my actions will speak for me as well as my words, I would be hopeful the sports boards would follow my example, it’s something I will be keeping a close eye on.”
Describing the move to gender balance on boards as “in its infancy now”, the Minister noted 13 sports boards still have less than 10% female members. This contrasts with the ten boards who have hit 40% gender balance, or higher for sports like the Ladies Gaelic Football Association board at 50/50.
The deputy leader of the Green Party says she welcomes the recent announcement by the Olympic Federation of Ireland to aim for 40% gender balance on its Executive Committee.
The latest Sport Ireland report on women on sports boards found a slight increase in numbers generally. Lynne Cantwell, Chair of Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport Steering Committee said at the time: “All our Irish sports need to draw on diverse perspectives and a variety of viewpoints in order to accurately represent sport and sports people in our country.”
One of the biggest challenges facing supporters of women in sport is solving the mystery of why so many girls drop out of sport in their early and late teens. Minister Martin was a teacher in St. Tiernan’s Community School in Dundrum, for 15 years before going full-time into politics. She had a first-hand experience of the negative impact that limited access to sports facilities can have for girls and boys.
She says the school gets support under the Delivery Equality of Opportunity In Schools (DEIS) programme and for years did not even have a PE Hall. She was one of the campaigners for that and says planning permission is now going ahead.
“I would like to see that our teenage girls don’t fall away from involvement in sport. That is something I would see from my time in education; that they have access to sports. I remember our school stopped to watch Sonia O’ Sullivan back in the day, and you could really see how that motivated the girls, you could see the difference in them,” she says.
Minister Martin name-checked sports heroes like boxer Katie Taylor, golfer Leona Maguire and athlete Ciara Mageean saying teachers tell her these women inspire their girls to try harder in PE classes.
Developing better links between schools and sport is something she plans to work on. The Minister said better awareness of sports grants or funding could make it easier for schools to build AstroTurf pitches for example.
Her own interest in sport as a supporter starts close to home with GAA as a Monaghan woman, and includes golf, snooker and ice-skating. She jokes: “Having grown up in Monaghan, I am still waiting for our day in the sun. I am an optimist by nature.”
And luckily as restrictions on sport bite, her favoured activity is hill-walking. It’s one of the few activities which can continue under Level 5 (depending on where you live), and she says her family really appreciated that time during the first Lockdown when they could get out and about.