An in­con­ve­nient truth: At­ten­dance ranks above rhetoric in sport

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - AGENDA -

The say­ing goes that if you see a band­wagon, it’s too late. Of course it’s not com­pletely true and there are up­sides. Take Mon­day, as a glance down Dame Street saw a de­served crowd turn out to wel­come home Ire­land’s hockey team. But don’t con­flate this with mean­ing­ful sup­port ei­ther for it didn’t so much high­light the in­ter­est, it masked it.

This was event-junkie stuff that brought about de­mands for more pub­lic money based on mis­in­for­ma­tion around the team pay­ing their own way to the World Cup, when their union has been given €900,000 this year via the tax­payer, with €625,000 of that for high-per­for­mance alone.

But there was another an­gle — and it’s telling that in sport it’s of­ten those who want to com­plain about dis­crim­i­na­tion that bring gen­der into a realm where it shouldn’t and doesn’t mat­ter.

Your sex has noth­ing to do with tax­payer fund­ing of high­end sport in Ire­land. All that counts is abil­ity, com­mit­ment and the like­li­hood of de­liv­er­ing.

The truth is there is a small but telling so­ci­etal guilt around our en­gage­ment in fe­male sport, and we use a vic­tory pa­rade or a well-at­tended once-a-year game of women’s foot­ball to say we did our bit. But be hon­est.

When was the last time any­one watched a hockey game be­fore this tour­na­ment? When will be the next time you watch one? And have you any plans to ac­tu­ally at­tend one? Ad­mit it.

We’ve been down this well-worn path be­fore, think­ing our words can mask our lack of ac­tion. Back in April 2017, we got all hot and both­ered when the women’s soc­cer team threat­ened to strike due to their treat­ment by the FAI, yet a week later, only 1,037 went out to watch them in a home World Cup qual­i­fier.

We told our­selves that the women’s Rugby World Cup was a great suc­cess and ac­cepted plat­i­tudes in the mir­ror, but to drill down showed an open­ing game for the hosts played in a field in UCD as Lans­downe Road would have been empty. And then there’s Katie Tay­lor, who sadly is the best ex­am­ple of the cheap and cheesy our-girl rhetoric.

For in­stance how of­ten did you hear it said that the woman she beat last month man­aged to reach the level of a world-ti­tle fight while work­ing as an es­tate agent, co-own­ing a busi­ness called Scalded Dog Truck­ing, and help­ing in her fam­ily’s build­ing com­pany?

It’s a mi­cro­cosm of the avoid­ance of telling the truth in women’s sport, and of pa­tro­n­is­ing rather than scru­ti­n­is­ing.

Those thrown in with Tay­lor also shows this up as an in­ter­na­tional is­sue. When com­par­ing the struc­tures around much of men’s and women’s sport, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber the ma­jor­ity of money is pri­vate, and that’s when this be­comes the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. Within that, peo­ple want to see the best and it’s there that men have both an un­fair ad­van­tage as well as a nat­u­ral ad­van­tage.

Firstly, due to past sex­ism in so­ci­ety, male ath­letes had a head-start, and now that we’ve reached a stage with sport be­ing so prof­itable, the chasm in sup­port is both in­creas­ing and ce­mented. There is also the ba­sic phys­i­ol­ogy too and in an arena where cus­tomers want faster, higher, longer, stronger, why watch Grif­fith-Joyner’s 10.49 sec­onds when you can have Bolt’s 9.59? Why watch Kostadi­nova’s 2.09 me­tres when you can have So­tomayor’s 2.45? Why watch Chistyakova 7.52 me­tres, when you can have Pow­ell’s 8.95? Why watch Spotáková’s 72.28 me­tres when you can have Zelezny’s 98.48? Of course you don’t, as au­di­ences through to spon­sor­ship and back­ing all go to prove.

It’s not a con­ve­nient truth so peo­ple shoot the mes­sen­ger be­cause they don’t like this mes­sage. That’s easy, which is the mod­ern way.

To ac­tu­ally change it, how­ever, would in­volve get­ting up, go­ing out, buy­ing a ticket, watch­ing a game... And you’ve no in­ter­est in that.


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