20×20: Does the vision for improvement and empowerment in women’s sport extend countrywide?

By: Mark Donlon

As the 20×20 campaign that aims to improve attendance in Irish women’s sport takes flight, the rewards have been reaped across many sports. Wexford Youths Women, is a more local success story which happened away from the encouragement of the national campaign.

The 20×20 campaign looked to cast a broader light on women’s sport in Ireland and bring it to a bigger, more engaged Irish audience. Since its inception, the fruits of its labour have ripened considerably, most notably the record attendance at this years’ ladies all-Ireland decider between Dublin and Galway, which attracted 56,114 spectators.

Another sea change occurred in hockey, where the ladies’ team, needing a draw or better to help secure Olympic qualification, put themselves in a great position with a 0-0 stalemate against Canada. The more affirming take away from that night at Energia Park, however, was the fact that 6,137 fans had come out in support. A record attendance for a women’s team international game.

And so, the 20×20 campaign has been rightfully appraised by many. At a national level, media coverage of women’s sport is on the rise, availability of tickets to the proverbial agnostics has increased, and as a result more support is being injected into these sports. When this happens, the quantities of those aiming high and striving for sporting success in women’s games shoots up, as does the overall quality of the games they compete in.

The question, however, is how this trickles down into the more localised clubs and teams?

The Wexford Youths Women are back to back FAI Cup champions, the side have never been in better shape. Those two Cup successes were preceded with another which came in 2015. And sure, they have the showpiece occasions to look forward to as a result of their successes, but is this reflected in their fiscal situation? Must the players be progressive and shrewd off the pitch as well as on it, even in 2019?

Ray Noonan, Treasurer at Wexford Youths WFC said: “Our men’s and women’s teams are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

“Our women have been at the top of the pile, while our men have languished at the bottom of the First Division.”

But, despite the greater successes, achieved by the women’s team, this golden era has been punctuated with the same problems when it comes to funding.

“As regards gate receipts, despite the comparison in success, our women’s team games would still be very poorly attended, you’d probably be talking around 100 people] at Ferrycarrig Park for a women’s game, and still between 250-300 for a men’s game,” explained Noonan.

Noonan alludes to the cost of attending, while men’s games are charged a €10 admission, women’s games cost just €5. This gulf in gate income, despite the varying degrees of on-field successes, have put an increased onus on players themselves to fundraise. And with women’s attendances still lower, they have burdened the responsibility up to now.

Kylie Murphy in action at the Champions League Qualifiers in Lithuania earlier this year. Photo Credit: FAI Media.jpg

“We would be reasonably well funded by UEFA, but that doesn’t exclude the need for more funding. Up until now, the basic requirements for a women’s team player would be to raise €500 per annum,” he said.

“There’s probably an inequality there in the sense that the senior men’s team wouldn’t be asked to fundraise.”

And so, the successes on Wexford’s Youth Women on the field has yet to result in an easing of a financial burden off it. There is however change being noticed within the club which is encouraging. 

Noonan said: “When we’ve looked ahead to our budgets for the 2020 season, in our planning, we have estimated that the women’s commercial income will pass out the men’s in the next year.”

“As the women’s team becomes more successful, raising commercial funds becomes easier,” he continued.

On the balance of everything within the Wexford Youths story, it can be said that their blueprint for on-field success can only be sustained if the national 20×20 plan extends the intentions of its own blueprint to the smaller clubs making big moves.

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