Thursday, 6 April 2017
Topical Issue Debate
We have all been following the revelations this week regarding the treatment of the national women's soccer team. I believe negotiations have taken place and some matters have been resolved but I commend the players for bringing this to public attention. It just goes to show when people link with a union and bring issues to public attention the progress that can be made quickly. However, a broader issue has been revealed, which is the discrimination against, and unequal treatment of, women in sport generally, both nationally and internationally.
I used to coach a basketball team when I was a teacher and the practice was that teachers would bring home the squad's kit to wash. The kit would be shared among the various teams. It seems our national women's soccer team was not treated much better having to change in toilets and taking off their tracksuits to give to the underage teams. There is still a massive difference in the remuneration of women and men. I understand the women were seeking €300 per match appearance whereas the senior men receive approximately €5,000 per game.
Many surveys highlight that female athletes are covered less in the media now than they were in 1989. We are subsidising RTE. Will the Minister of State launch an investigation into the coverage of women's sports by the national broadcaster? In the US, women's sports receive 3.2% of network coverage although in some cases it is only 2%. However, many of the television channels use the ubiquitous evolving rolling ticker at the bottom of the screen to justify coverage of women's sport. Much of the coverage is sexist referring to their looks and appearance and it idealises their ability to juggle family and sport. One tennis player was asked by a commentator recently to give a twirl to show what she was wearing. That is the way women can be treated when they participate in sport.
With regard to funding of sports bodies, will the Minister of State call any of them to account regarding the amount they give to women's sports? This is not just about gender discrimination; it is also a health issue. How is it attractive for young girls to continue in their chosen sport if they know they will be treated as second or third class citizens? There is a problem with girls participating in sports in their teenage years and beyond. Why would they when their participation is not valued at all by society? There is a health issue for girls. The Minister of State should call the sports bodies to account in this regard.
The prize fund for the World Cup was €576 million whereas the prize fund for the Women's World Cup was €15 million, or 40 times less. The men's World Cup winning team received $35 million whereas the women's winners received $2 billion. The winning team in the men's UEFA Champions League receives €15 million while the winning women's team receives €250,000 or 60 times less.
In 2015, the State gave €2.96 million to the GAA but only €384,655 was given to the Ladies Gaelic Football Association and €387,000 to the Camogie Association. Much less funding goes to women's sports and the Minister of State should take this up with the association.
I welcome the opportunity to comment on the events of the past few days. Like most Members, I am delighted the issues between the women's teams and the FAI have been resolved, training has recommenced and the scheduled match will go ahead next Monday evening. I wish the team the best of luck.
Over the past number of years, we have seen huge strides being made by our women's international soccer team and I wish them the best of luck.
I understand all of the issues raised by the women's team have been successfully resolved following mediation last night. I made contact yesterday morning with Sport Ireland and the FAI and I encouraged both to facilitate mediation. I was delighted it was availed off by all parties without preconditions and that the matters have been resolved.
It is disappointing the dispute between the team and the FAI happened in the first place but I am pleased that it has now been resolved. It is important that woman and girls are encouraged to participate in sport and I am fully supportive of the existing programmes in place aimed at increasing female participation in sport. Football plays an important role in that regard. Women’s participation in football has been growing in recent years and I know it will continue. Since the launch of the FAI's women’s development plan in 2006, the number of registered players in the women’s game has grown from 12,500 to more than 23,000. It is a clear indication of the huge increase and interest in women’s football and I have no doubt the part played by the women’s national team and members of that squad acting as ambassadors and role models has been a huge factor in the growth in participation.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the team on securing fourth spot in the Cyprus Cup last month, their highest ever finish in a tournament.
Sport Ireland, which is funded by my Department as a statutory agency, provides funding to the FAI from its youth field sports programme and its women in sport programme, which I launched yesterday for 2017. Funding of €2.7 million was provided to the FAI last year. Youth field sports funding is aimed at increasing participation in football by young people, both boys and girls. The women in sport funding is for the grassroots development of specific programmes in women’s football and funds participation initiatives for women. The FAI's individual programmes are aimed at encouraging young girls aged between seven and 12 to play football. The programme has been a major factor in the increase in the number of young girls participating in recent years. Over 130 soccer sisters camps will be taking place around the country during the upcoming Easter school holidays. We have seen programmes like these with the GAA cúl camps. Programmes like this are a great way to get young girls involved in sport and I commend the FAI for the work it is doing.
Since this Government came into office, we have put a number of initiatives in place such as funding for the women's GPA. References were made to women's sports in general. Funding is now in place when it previously was not. The Women's Rugby World Cup is coming up in the summer. I will use the opportunity to promote that and hope people engage in it. We have also seen improvements in the broadcast of women's sports, particularly in the Women's Six Nations. This has to be welcomed.
Reference was made to the GAA. I remind the Deputy the GAA has responsibility for handball and underage hurling and football in our schools and it does not discriminate between boys and girls. Many clubs across the country have, at underage level such as under-eights, under-tens and under-12s, boys and girls playing together. The GAA has a programme for the development of women in the sport. It needs to be acknowledged in terms of the overall contribution the GAA makes. The IRFU has a similar situation as do most of the national governing bodies that come under the umbrella of Sport Ireland. Sport Ireland has specific programmes for the development of women's sports, the funding of which we announced yesterday. The allocations will be made through the national governing bodies.
Does the Minister of State find it acceptable that the head of the FAI is apparently on a salary of €360,000 yet failed to engage and did not want to engage at all with representatives of the women players for a number of years? The Minister of State is saying it is great that it was sorted out. Is there not some responsibility on him as Minister of State to call the FAI to account for its treatment of these players over a long period of time? They should not have had to go public. They should not have had to do what they did. It obviously took a huge amount of work. It did not just happen with the press conference. They should not have had to threaten to go on strike. It validates the power of withdrawing labour and the reason why people resort to it. Does the Minister of State not think the FAI has to be called to account for its finances in general? There have been ongoing issues with what seems to be first class travel by the top executives while the players are stuck in economy class. It also happened with the men's team but obviously it would be even worse for the women's team.
There are a number of broader issues here. We know there is gender inequality in sport. It is massive. My daughter has often asked me why they never show women playing sport on television. How is it possible to encourage daughters to take part in sport when they see they are not valued? RTE's director general mooted the idea of doubling the TV licence as something she would like to do. We see very few women in TV coverage generally but even fewer in sport. Does the Minister of State have any concerns about that? Will he propose anything?
We do not run RTE. Contrary to some political parties' aspirations that we should control the national broadcaster, we do not. RTE has made strides over the past number of years to promote the broadcast of women's sports, particularly in the area of the GAA. One can hear it if one turns on the radio any Saturday or Sunday and follows Sunday Sport. The Deputy should tune into it. On the overall-----
We launched a policy document a number of months ago and neither the Deputy's party nor any Opposition party made a submission. The Deputy values women in sport and sport so much that she did not even bother to make a submission on the overall policy and structural direction.
-----and she fudged it. She fudged it. There will still be an opportunity when the Deputy gets around to valuing sport rather than just coming in and picking out the latest negativity. What we listened to in Question Time was just another wave of the Deputy's usual negativity.
Women's sport is to the fore of my agenda in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It is to the fore of Sport Ireland, which is the statutory agency with responsibility for it. The sports monitor report was published previously. I have heard no one calling for a debate in this House, neither the Deputy nor anyone else, about why it is that 16 year old girls are falling off the cliff of participation. If the Deputy is so anxious to have a debate on sport in Ireland, let us have it. She could start by deciding what policy she will formulate rather than just the usual wave of negativity.