FAI dispute sparks debate on women's soccer status

Abbeyfeale United women’s senior team Shane O’Connor coach says support is 'pathetic'

Maria Flannery

Reporter:

Maria Flannery

FAI dispute sparks debate on women's soccer status

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Patrick O’Donovan

THE FAI dispute, in which the women’s international team fought for better working conditions, is just an overt example of what women’s teams face all over the country at a local level.

That’s according to the coach of Abbeyfeale United women’s senior team Shane O’Connor, echoing managers around the country in saying that the female side of soccer is under-resourced and less than cared-for.

“It’s pathetic really, the amount of support the ladies get. It’s not even support as in going to matches, there’s just kind of a stigma that women can’t play soccer, and even from a club level, there’s an attitude of ‘there’s no point giving them anything, it’s only the girls playing soccer’,” said coach O’Connor.

“It’s embarrassing. I coach girls who are ten times better than some fellas on the teams in Abbeyfeale, and it’s embarrassing that they are looked upon like second class citizens within the club itself, or within the Desmond League. I’ve played soccer all my life for men’s teams and there’s just a massive gap,” he said.

The national dispute has sparked a conversation about how seriously women’s soccer is taken in general. Stephanie Roche, who was famously nominated for FIFA’s Puskas goal of the year award alongside James Rodriguez and Robin Van Persie, described how the senior international players had to change out of their tracksuits in the airport toilets, as they were needed for an underage team.

“That can happen at a local level, because clubs don’t have money. But when you think of a national level, it’s ridiculous. We got sponsored for kits and jackets for our team that they get to keep, and if we can do that at a local level, then surely they can do it at a national level for a ladies’ team with the resources they have. It’s ridiculous,” said Mr O’Connor.

“Even if you compare the build-up to a final, within the men’s and ladies’ leagues, it’s different. There’s this prestige to the men’s final, and then in the ladies’ league, it’s just like ‘we’ll get it out of the way’,” added the Abbeyfeale coach.

“Those girls put in the same amount of training throughout the season as the men’s teams do, same number of training sessions, same number of matches, same amount of time and effort and then they get nothing back for it.”

Mr O’Connor also said that coverage in the media for women’s soccer is disappointing.

“If people are looking at it on a national level, it’s filtering down from above. Most clubs and committees are old-school men who are not with the new times.”

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Limerick’s Patrick O’Donovan, addressed the Dáil on the FAI dispute, and was challenged by TD Ruth Coppinger about the FAI bosses’ high salaries and the lack of women’s sport shown on TV.

“It is disappointing the dispute between the team and the FAI happened in the first place but I am pleased that it has now been resolved,” he said.

“It is important that women and girls are encouraged to participate in sport and I am fully supportive of the existing programmes in place aimed at increasing female participation in sport.”

The minister also said: “women's sport is to the fore of my agenda in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.”