In a week where Ireland’s women won the Rugby grand slam and the Irish Sports Council provided over €840,000 in funding to ‘Women in Sport’ programmes for 2013 we take a look at the role of women in sport in Ireland. Speaking after the teams success in Rome this week President Michael D Higgins said that “This Grand Slam winning performance again highlights the ever-increasing success of women in sport in this country, and will contribute to further participation by women in sport and will help gain the due recognition that women’s sports deserves.”

40% of females currently partake in sport and 170,000 women volunteer in Irish sport each year. Athletics athlete, Fionnuala Britton, has consistently performed for Ireland, a double winner of European cross country medals as well as her recent bronze in the European Indoors. Her success is also reflected at grassroots level with over 50% of Athletics Ireland members being women. In addition, 40,000 women took part in the Dublin Flora Women’s mini marathon last year.

Katie Taylor is of course Ireland’s most successful female athlete ever with numerous European and World Championships medals and an Olympic Gold to show for her efforts. Perhaps Amy Broadhurst from Dundalk, the European Junior gold medalist, will join her on the podium in Rio. The IABA reports an increase in participation in women’s boxing in the past number of years since Katie’s success.

The Irish Sports Monitor 2011 suggested that middle aged women are more likely to sustain their involvement in sport than men, and may be more open to trying new sports, as well as showing an increase (since 2009)  in participation in sport by adult women in all age groups. However, research in the UK (Loughborough University), shows that over half of girls are put off physical activity by their experiences of school sport and PE lessons (a phenomenon mirrored in Ireland). 45% think sport is too competitive, while over a third say their PE teacher only pays attention to pupils who are good at sport. The study also revealed that girls’ attitudes to PE are led by their peers, and that many feel uncomfortable taking part. 57% of girls agreed that girls drop out of doing physical activity because their friends do.

In Ireland perhaps we need to focus more on individual sports for girls, where they are shown to maintain interest and participation, as well as to diversify the offering of sport and physical activity at school. Research by Swim Ireland shows that women tend to swim more often than men and swim for health reasons rather than competition.

Sarah Keane, CEO, Swim Ireland set out her vision for women in sport in Ireland towards 2020 in our Annual Review:

Today in Ireland we have a host of top class sportswomen right across a whole range of sports. And yet do they get the credit they deserve in terms of sponsorship, facilities, funding or publicity?

The Irish Sports Council has a specific Women in Sport programme, funds female athletes through the carding system and the Irish Times holds the Women in Sport awards. Yet the fact remains that female sportspeople do not get anything like the same recognition as their male counterparts in similar positions.

No doubt Katie Taylor will have an excellent chance of being named Sports Personality of the Year for 2012 given her Olympic Gold Medal but we should not forget she was a three time World Champion already and has not yet received the award.

We are also lucky in Ireland to have a number of really talented and capable women in leading roles in sports administration right around the country. Not to mention the huge female volunteer base that sustains Irish Sport. Again however like the female athletes much of this work goes on under the radar. And yet all of these girls and women are exceptional and should most certainly be real role models for young Irish girls and women nationwide. 40% of females partake in sport and yet with the right encouragement and focus on some of the fabulous existing role models, this figure could be even more.

Sport is for everyone and that includes women. Women’s passion and commitment no matter the nature of their involvement in sport is just as fierce as men’s. I would hope that by 2020 female participants in sport feel their contribution is as recognised and as valued as that of men and that girls and women of all ages are encouraged to get involved in sport to the same extent as their male counterparts… truly sport for all.

Read more about the success of Women in Sport in our Annual Review