Increased funding essential to ongoing growth of women’s sport

I wrote elsewhere in this column of my disappointment at there being no live Premier League game on Sky Sports on Monday night – Monday night football can be a real treat – but I must subject myself to a kind of VAR…

That’s because I did watch some football on Sky on Monday evening; it was highlights of Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Manchester United in the FA Women’s Super League. It was a high-quality performance from Chelsea, who are joint top of the table with London rivals Arsenal (Manchester United in third).

The ongoing development of women’s sport in Ireland, and in the UK, is so exciting, welcome and overdue. England winning the UEFA Women’s Championship during the summer was a defining milestone across the water. Then last month, the Republic of Ireland made history by qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time ever.

Statistics suggest that while female participation in sport in Ireland is growing, it is a gradual increase (40.8% of Irish females regularly taking part in sport  now, compared to 39.3% in 2015). I’d expect those participation levels to grow significantly in the next couple of years.

The existence of so many fantastic female role models in Irish sport will of course help to drive the increased participation levels. Here in County Roscommon, we have seen at first-hand how talent, dedication and commitment can achieve so much. Olivia Costello continues to make great strides in golf; the phenomenal exploits of boxing sisters Aoife and Lisa O’Rourke have been well documented. Richael Timothy is an accomplished Paralympian (and all-round sportsperson). All over County Roscommon, females are excelling in countless sports. Most importantly of all, they are participating.

Nationally, with the success of Leona Maguire (golf), the Irish soccer team, superstar jockey Rachael Blackmore, our numerous female boxing stars – and many other inspirational performers in various sports – women’s sport is in a historically strong place. What is critical now is that the current Government/Sport Ireland and future governments continue to increase funding for women’s/girls’ sport.