James Crombie/INPHO Minister O'Donovan speaking to media earlier.

'There needs to be a change in mindset in how we view the role of women in sport'

Minister Patrick O’Donovan says his Department has offered mediation in an attempt to find a resolution in the row between the women’s national team and the FAI.

MINISTER OF STATE for Sport, Patrick O’Donovan, has once again reiterated his belief that the role of women in sport, both on the field and in the boardroom, needs to be viewed differently in this country.

Speaking at the launch of Sport Ireland’s ‘Rio Review’ this afternoon, O’Donovan said the row between the women’s national football team and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) further underlines the need for gender quotas in sport.

The Minister announced plans to introduce a 30% gender quota for sporting bodies last December and in light of this week’s events said Ireland needs to change its attitude towards women in sport.

“I’ve made my position very clear in relation to it, I firmly believe there needs to be a change in mindset in Ireland in how we view the role of women in sport, both from a participation level and a governance point of view as well,” he said.

“I’ve enunciated this on more than one occasion and we’ve gotten all of the responses back through Sport Ireland for the policy platform that we’re putting in place.

“I think governing bodies outside of this issue have a road to travel in relation to making sure their sport has as great as possible representation of the widest forms of diverse groups and that’s not just in relation to gender but other suites as well and I would encourage them to do that.”

When asked directly about the developments which have seen the women’s national team air their grievances over playing and training conditions in public and threaten to boycott Monday’s game against Slovakia, O’Donovan said:

Stephanie Roche celebrates scoring a goal with teammates Tommy Dickson / INPHO The players have threatened to boycott Monday's game against Slovakia. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“Look I think it’s in everyone’s interests first off that there would be no strike. The players concerned, I’m sure their only concern is to be in the best possible place they can be to prepare for the game next Monday.

“This morning I made contact with the FAI and I also asked Sport Ireland to make contact with the FAI to encourage as much as possible the facilitation of mediation. And as I walked into the room the news reports were that that was moving in the right direction.

“It’s in everyone’s interest that this is sorted and sorted soon because I’m sure from the player’s point of view what they want to do is put on the green jersey and play for Ireland. Don’t believe for one minute that they want to be in the space they’re in.”

As a measure of last resort, the squad yesterday held a press conference in Dublin, during which the extraordinarily low-quality conditions they are expected to perform under were revealed.

One of the most startling revelations, and certainly one which has grabbed most of the headlines, was that the players have been forced to change out of their tracksuits in airport toilets before and after away trips because they share kit with underage teams.

Minister O’Donovan added: “It’s not good, it’s 2017 and that’s not good. Everybody’s reaction to this when it came out in the media over the last 24/48 hours; it’s not good.

Patrick O’Donovan TD James Crombie / INPHO O'Donovan was in attendance at the launch of the 'Rio Review' report. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“We want it fixed and we want a process put in place, and from what I gather that process has been committed to and what we’d encourage now is to give people the space and the time, a short period of time, to get on with it and come to a resolution and to ultimately focus on Monday.”

After the players decided not to attend today’s training camp in a further act of protest against the FAI and the association’s refusal to engage with the PFAI on the matter, they are set for talks with a mediator at 6pm this evening.

O’Donovan also stressed that the offer of mediation from his Department was also on the table, but he would not intervene by ‘roaring in from the sideline.’

“Our office don’t tell national governing bodies of sports what to do and what not to do but I think I’ve made it as clear as possible on behalf of the Department. We want this issue sorted, we want the focus to be back on the field and we want the basic issues which have been put out into the public arena addressed.

“The offer of mediation is there and I would say this is the best approach for it.”

“I want to wish them the best of luck with that and I hope we see them back on the training field as soon as possible.”

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