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Is equality coming soon for women’s sport?

Football, the world’s most popular sport, is wracked by inequality that means women don’t get the same opportunities as men.  But things may be improving.

The inequities between men and women’s football are being recognised and addressed more than ever before. Many women are speaking up.  

Image result for jamie finn ireland
Jamie Finn, Shelbourne and Ireland Women’s player. Photo credit: fai.ie

“I played with Swords Manor boys’ team until I was about 12,” Jamie Finn, who plays for Shelbourne in the Women’s National League (WNL) and for the Irish national team, told The Liberty. “At that age girls are not allowed to play on boys teams, so I moved to Shelbourne.”

The WNL is a competitive league for women that can be the start of a possible professional football career. Recently,  SSE Airtricity, which sponsors men’s top-flight football in Ireland, became the new sponsors of the WNL. 

“This is a huge step. It’s great to have both leagues under one sponsor,” Finn said.   

In the past, women’s football struggled to gain publicity for its leagues and matches. However, with the new league sponsors and the growth over the last two years of the 20×20 campaign, the future looks brighter.  

The 20×20 campaign, involving more than 100 sports bodies in Ireland, is about creating a cultural shift in our perception of girls’ and women’s sport. Its aims are to get 20% more media coverage for women’s sports, 20% more female participation (players, coaches, referees) and 20% more attendance at women’s games across the various codes.

“Matches such as Ireland vs Ukraine, or the final in Tallaght Stadium last December against Germany, were televised on RTÉ, which has never been done before. It’s definitely a huge step for women’s football,” Finn said.  

One major difference that has been brought to light between men’s and women’s football at this level is the “pay to play” situation. Male top-flight players do not have to pay for any equipment, whereas Women’s National League players do. Pre-match food, physiotherapists, and transport to and from games are among the things that sportswomen often must pay for.  

Players such as Finn and fellow Irish player Áine O’Gorman of Peamount United have spoken out about this issue. “Women in sport should be on the same pedestal as men,” Finn said. “It is the same sport, so the question is: why should we have to pay if the men do not?” 

In recent weeks, some women’s league teams have taken it upon themselves to improve the situation. Bohemians FC issued a statement on Instagram in December stating that the club will not be charging its WNL players annual fees, and the club will reimburse the players for any expenses incurred. 

Finn told The Liberty that Shelbourne have followed in the footsteps of Bohs. “Recently Shelbourne announced that their WNL players will not have to pay to play. This is a big step in the right direction.

“I hope more teams continue to follow and this will be a significant improvement to women football.” 

“It would mean a lot to me as a female player to see equality between the men and women’s game, these little steps will lead to big improvements. It would be great to see more equality between the two genders,” Finn said. 

There are hopes that with new sponsors for the WNL that funding will grow for women’s football. O’Gorman told the Irish Independent that eradicating “pay to play” is a first step.  

“The backing of SSE Airtricity and hopefully increased prize money means that hopefully there is a situation where players do not have to pay any more, O’Gorman said. “We should be striving to get semi-professional. We have to look at getting rid of pay to play first.”

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