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Women on boards: 'No leeway' for GAA and other sports organisations before funding cuts

Thomas Byrne is in Australia for the Fifa Women’s World Cup.

Sinéad O’Carroll reports from the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Sydney

THE SPORTS MINISTER has used his visit to the Fifa Women’s World Cup to warn sporting organisations they will lose access to funding and capital grants if they do not take gender equality seriously. 

Thomas Byrne, the minister for state in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, told reporters there would be no leeway for large organisations who do not have at least 40% of their board made up of female members by the end of this year.

“The Government has obviously said there will be significant funding cuts if governing bodies don’t reach 40% of either gender on their board,” Byrne said. 

Speaking in the office of the Consulate General Office in Sydney, the Meath TD added, “Organisations are making progress, we’re up to 39% – from 36% in December – of the overall boards, including with the FAI who nominated one director recently. But the FAI, rugby [the IRFU], GAA, boxing [Irish Athletic Boxing Association] are not at 40% yet. They have to be at the end of the year.”

The GAA is still only at 20% female representation on its board – a fact that would be different, the deputy noted, if there was one umbrella organisation. 

The Irish Athletic Boxing Association has just 13% female representation on its board. 

“They need to change… They’ve a new chairman in recently, he confirmed to me recently that it is one of their top priorities,” the minister added. 

Asked if there would be any leeway given to the GAA, the IRFU or the FAI, Byrne responded: “No, no leeway whatsoever”.

“We’re looking at the moment how we do it, but what I said is there would be significant funding cuts if it’s not done by the end of the year. But… we need to keep the pressure on… if they’re not at the 40%, they will not be funded.”

Asked if the laggards understand why they are being asked to make the boards more equal, Byrne said he believes at senior level, “they all understand it”, but that “sometimes it has explained down the ranks”.

“Everybody acknowledges that they need more assistance within the ranks to allow people come up the ranks. That’s probably not happening and needs more work. When we reach the 40% at national level, we’ll see what we’ve to do to get the levels below at regional and county level there.”

‘Similar access’

Last month, Byrne announced that his department would be linking sports capital grant decisions to more equal access to facilities for male and female players. 

“We have an egregious case, for example – I won’t say what county – but there is a hurling club that will not allow camogie to be played in it,” he explained. “We are not funding that. That is over. That’s the way it is.

“We’ve situations where women’s county teams are training outside their county, where maybe they have to pay to use the GAA centres of excellence and the men don’t.”

Quizzed on how such a plan would be implemented, he said, “I’m not going to tell anyone that I’m announcing it because if I start working on it through everyone, they will tell me why I can’t do it. So if I announce it in the Dáil, it’ll have to happen. 

“In respect of clubs, they will have to certify when they draw down the money that they are in compliance. We will accept their self-certification. That’s in terms of clubs, local grants. Like everything in sports capital, some of that will be policed by us. 

“In respect of regional grants – large scale grants – and that will include clubs who avail of regional or large-scale grants, they will have to produce a written policy on the provision of similar access. They will have to produce that policy to the department.

“In terms of the regional grants which are the large-scale grants up to half a million euro, they will have to show us a policy that satisfies us with similar access. We’ll be engaged with the organisations and player representative associations as well to make sure we get that right. We have time to do that.”

It’s understood the GAA is developing an open-access policy nationally as it will be considerably impacted by capital grants being linked to access where clubs do not operate as a One Club (where members are treated equally, regardless of whether they are playing under the GAA, the Camogie Association or the LGFA). 

Asked if he is putting pressure on the trio to integrate, he said he is happy to allow time to the process which is currently underway.

“It’s certainly something we want to see,” he added. “And at some point, it won’t be possible to deal with three organisations. It will be too difficult… It is essential that everyone is treated similarly in that and it’s not just everybody joining one organisation but that maybe a new entity is created and they start again.”

Citing the GPA, which is currently working with female members in a work-to-rule as part of a fight for more equal treatment, he said access to facilities is a big issue for LGFA and Camogie Association members. 

On the most pressing matter of the trip – Australia versus Ireland in the World Cup opener – Byrne said he would absolutely not predict the score. 

“I am delighted to be here, in my case, for one game,” he said. “It’s a historic moment, it’s a historic moment for women’s sport in general as well. It’s a long team since the men’s team qualified for the World Cup. It has given a big lift to the country, there is certainly a lot of excitement in Sydney and at home as well.”

Sinéad O’Carroll and Emma Duffy are in Australia to cover Ireland’s World Cup debut for The Journal and The 42. Subscribe to The 42 here for full coverage. 

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