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Ex-Ireland international and full-time lead to pioneer new Women in Sport policy

Sport Ireland have announced an increased annual fund of €2 million.

Chair of Sport Ireland's new Women in Sport committee Lynne Cantwell.
Chair of Sport Ireland's new Women in Sport committee Lynne Cantwell.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

SPORT IRELAND TODAY launched its first Women in Sport policy, with a full-time, permanent lead set to be appointed presently.

Former Ireland rugby star Lynne Cantwell was unveiled as the chair of a 10-person steering committee, who will oversee the implementation of the policy through four key target areas: coaching and officiating, active participation, leadership and governance, and visibility.

The policy aims to achieve equal participation between males and females in sport — rewarding sporting bodies who implement greater gender diversity from the top — and is boosted by increased funding.

Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport programme for National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and Local Sports Partnerships (LSPs) has been re-launched — it was established in 2005 — with an increased annual fund of €2 million.

This funding is open to all sports, with NGBs invited to apply as part of bid process.

“It’s exciting from an Irish point of view to be able to significantly change what direction Ireland are going in from a strategic point of view, from a women in sport point of view,” Cantwell told The42 at today’s launch in the National Indoor Arena.

“I suppose what this strategy and investment project puts in place is more of a concrete, substantive, sustainable direction. Without that, you’ll have NGBs and sports and individual sportspeople trying to close that gradient through their own initiatives, which are really, really great.

Mary O’Connor, Kelli O’Keeffe, Lynne Cantwell, Sarah Keane, John Sweeney, Joanne Cantwell and John Fulham Some of the steering committee at today's event. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Whereas if we have the government funding direction behind it, it’s obviously going to be a little bit more substantive and sustainable.”

She added: “It is starting from zero in a way that it’s new but it’s not starting from zero because we have made huge strides over the years.

“This is obviously very. very significant. It’s government funding in line with the national sports funding. We just need to implement the plan now. The funding is there, the vision is there, the strategy is there which is very, very progressive by Sport Ireland. It’s great.”

With RTÉ Sport broadcaster Joanne Cantwell and John Fulham, President of Paralympics Ireland, are two others on the steering committee, Cantwell is enthusiastic about what lies ahead and is honoured to lead.

“The steering group is absolutely sensational, and that’s what I’m most excited about,” Ireland’s most-capped women’s rugby player said. “There’s a reason for that, and the reason for it is progressiveness.

“We have the strategy and the four main pillars of the strategy are coaching and officiating, active participation, viability and leadership and governments.

“We want to gain the expertise of brilliant people that are in Ireland already that are steeped in knowledge in those areas, so that can steer the direction. There’s a lot of things that need to be created within the strategy and we’re going to use their expertise to be able to try and do that.”

The policy is aligned with the Government’s National Sports Policy 2018 to 2027 — and a key aim of that is to have equal participation between males and females in sport.

Grainne Walsh, Michaela Walsh, Annalise Murphy and Clare Ryan Grainne Walsh (Boxing), Michaela Walsh (Boxing), Annalise Murphy (Sailing) and Clare Ryan (Swim Ireland). Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The gap has closed from 15.7% to 4.5% since 2007 (according to the Irish Sports Monitor 2017) but there is much work still to do in this area — among others.

The appointment of a full-time Women in Sport lead (the position has been offered to an unnamed candidate) is one key measure undertaken to address that, from grassroots level to high performance.

“We are delighted to have put in place a Women in Sport Steering Committee that is full of experience and expertise, which will oversee the delivery of the policy,” Sport Ireland Director of Participation and Ethics, Dr Una May, added.

“It is our intention that this will lead to a step-change in the landscape for women’s participation in sport across the board from grassroots to leadership.”

“The Women in Sport Policy reaffirms the Sport Ireland’s commitment to women in sport,” Sport Ireland Chief Executive, John Treacy, concluded.

“The policy identifies four key areas of focus, where Sport Ireland wants to make a significant, positive and measurable impact. In order to help us deliver on the policy, Sport Ireland will shortly be appointing a Women in Sport Lead.”

Sport Ireland Women in Sport Steering Committee

  • Lynne Cantwell, Chair – Sport Ireland Board
  • Joanne Cantwell – Broadcaster, RTÉ Sport
  • Mary Dorgan – Sport Ireland Board
  • Jenny Egan – International Athlete, Canoeing
  • John Fulham – President, Paralympics Ireland
  • Frances Kavanagh – Former Director of Sport, Special Olympics Ireland
  • Sarah Keane – Chief Executive, Swim Ireland/President, Olympic Federation of Ireland
  • Mary O’Connor – Chief Executive, Federation of Irish Sport
  • Kelli O’Keeffe – Managing Director, Teneo
  • John Sweeney – Coordinator, Clare Sports Partnership

The Sport Ireland Women in Sport policy can be downloaded here.

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Emma Duffy

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