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'It goes down to the female attitude of, 'We just get on with it.' We don't value our time enough'

The WGPA released the findings of a report today into the lives and experiences of female inter-county players.

THE FINDINGS OF a report into the lives and playing experiences of female inter-county players were startling and unsurprising in equal measure.

maria-kinsella WGPA chairperson Maria Kinsella. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

It was put together by the Women’s Gaelic Players Association [WGPA] and carried the title ‘The Levelling the Field Report.’ And each statistic for the main findings illustrated just how uneven the field is.

The money spent by players to commit to their inter-county teams and pay for medical expenses are the headline reveals. The colossal distances they clock up to attend training sessions are standout figures as well.

Dublin footballer Sinéad Aherne and former Cork camogie Aoife Murray both spoke to the media on a video call after the report was published, and responded with a resounding ‘yes’ when it was put to them that these figures amount to female players being second class citizens. 

Towards the bottom of the report, there’s a statistic that concerns marketing and promotional activity linked with Ladies football and camogie. Just over one-third of players have participated in such opportunities, but 65% of these players do not receive any compensation.

WGPA chairperson Maria Kinsella, who was also present on the video call, was asked about this problem among female inter-county players.

“I think it goes down to the female attitude of, ‘We just get on with it and just say yes.’

We don’t value our time enough and think it’s an honour to be doing this and do it to promote the game for the next generation.

“I know it’s something we in the WGPA have started to tackle in the last few months, to actually educate our members in how to value their time adequately.

“From that, we’ve really seen a need to establish a commercial expense rate card for our members because 65% of them are doing corporate activities and just not getting ruminated for their time.

“Their appearance and image are used across various campaigns and this does need to change.”

When asked if any of the WGPA’s members have said they were ever refused or offered insufficient payment for their involvement in promotional work, Kinsella replied:

“It’s quite the opposite actually. In the corporate world, it’s very much moving towards where organisations and entities can’t be seen to support just a one-sex code sports team. They need to show diversity in the sponsorship portfolio.

“We’ve had recent cases where corporates have come to us and want to have a male and female ambassador and we’ve been able to secure the same fee for the female as the male and that needs to be the case across the board and the expected standard.”

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Elsewhere in the report, a finding reveals that 74% are so tired from the mental demands that they struggle to work or study.

The research for this study was conducted in early 2020, before Covid-19 took hold in Ireland, which poses questions about how this pandemic and lockdown restrictions have impacted on the mental health of players.

The WGPA runs a 24-counselling service for its members who need support in this regard. Executive member Gemma Begley says that there has been a slight increase in the number of players availing of the helpline in recent times.

“When lockdown started,” she begins on the video call, “we were expecting it to be a lot higher and it probably fell off for a small while. I’m not sure if there was probably less stress on [players]. Over 70% of our members are teachers and students so [they] probably weren’t the worst affected by the lockdown.

But it has started to creep back up. We’ve started to introduce the text service, it’s been launched recently. It’s another way to engage with that demographic. That age group are far more likely to pick up a text than to ring someone. We’re only starting to see the results of that trickle through now.

“I suppose initially, the main concerns and anxiety in recent weeks are worries around the close contacts and return to play guidelines, and making sure everything was done properly and not putting anyone at risk.

“They’re obviously going back into the work place as well, there’s so many teachers. I suppose there was a lot of trepidation with that initially but I have to say, even in the first weeks of getting back to games, there’s been no bad feedback at all, it’s been positive if anything.”

The WGPA included a couple of key recommendations in their report. These include; lobbying government for funding for female players through a grant scheme and the introduction of a player expenses model.

It also mentions the WGPA integrating with the GPA to establish a body that acts as one voice for all inter-county players.

Kinsella says that progress with this project is “ongoing.” 

“Both of our members [from] the WGPA and the GPA have passed motions at our respective AGMs a number of months ago allowing the executives to formalise that partnership.

“We are working ever closely with the GPA, they are probably our biggest ally and our best friend on that. That process is still ongoing. When it is going to be completed, we’re not in a position to say at the moment but we are working with the GPA on that.”

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