It’s a human trait to seek out watershed moments or points of inflection after which things wouldn’t be the same. But history isn’t like that and doesn’t allow for easy identification of the individual straw which overloaded the camel or the rebel hand that set the heather blazing.
That said, the last few years have been replete with such potential moments for women’s sport in Ireland. Who can forget the moment when the Irish women’s hockey team eclipsed the rugby grand slam champions to take the RTE Sport Team of the Year title in 2018? Or the day in 2018 when more than 50,000 people turned up to Croke Park to watch the Ladies All-Ireland Football Final between Dublin and Cork, making it the best attended women’s sporting event in Europe that year by a mile.
Add to those other, possibly smaller things, like the switch of the women’s international rugby matches from the periphery of Ashbourne to the heart of the sport in Ireland in Donnybrook; the always erudite presence of Joanne Cantwell hosting the Sunday Game; the thoughtful analysis provided by the female pundits on international soccer broadcasts; and you start to see a much bigger and better picture emerge.
Looking outside of Ireland, we saw the exploits of Fallon Sherlock at the World Darts Championships and we witnessed the Woman’s Football World Cup in France draw record crowds and viewing figures.
It really is turning into a something of a golden era for women’s sport and I like to think that the 20x20 programme has made a small but significant contribution to that. 20x20 is a KPMG supported national movement to champion girls and women in sport with the aim of creating a measurable cultural shift in society through a 20% increase in participation, media coverage and attendance in women’s sport by the end of 2020.
20x20 is based on the very simple proposition that males and females in sport should be treated equally and receive the same levels of recognition and encouragement for their talent and ambition.
Sarah Colgan is the inspiration behind 20x20. She drew her motivation to establish the programme in 2017 from observing that her daughter didn’t have the same enthusiasm for sport as her son. She knew instinctively that her daughter was missing out on the many benefits of sport. Sarah’s ambition for 20x20 was to start shifting perceptions about women in sport, so that girls like her daughter would feel more enthusiastic about sport and get more enjoyment out of it.
The programme’s objectives are rooted in research commissioned by 20x20 in 2018 which found that just 3% of sports print coverage, 4% of sports online coverage and only 2% of TV sport coverage in Ireland is dedicated to women’s sport.
As a parent of two small girls, I’m very conscious of how this stark reality can limit girls’ attitudes to sport. However, it is important to say that sport should always be about fun and enjoyment. It’s definitely not about pushing every young person to be a high performer!
An essential part of the campaign is to encourage people to become an active part of the cultural shift that 20x20 is looking to achieve. One highly effective approach is for organisations and people to ‘pledge’ how they will support the programme.
For example, RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, pledged its support for a 20% increase in its coverage of women in sport. Many individuals, including 600 people in KPMG Ireland made pledges, often highlighted on their own social media pages, including to attend more women’s sporting events or to participate in or support women in sport.
When planning Disney World, Walt Disney told the contractors to build the castle first because he knew the sight of it would serve as a motivation for the duration of the project. The same principle applies to women’s sport. We need role models to encourage the next generation and we are very fortunate in having some marvellous sportswomen to provide inspiration and motivation at the moment.
These include the Ireland Women’s U23 team of Eilish Flanagan, Roisin Flanagan, Stephanie Cotter, Claire Fagan, Sorcha McAllister and Fian Sweeney. I will never forget the newspaper pictures of these “daughters of Sonia” celebrating winning their silver medals at the European Championships in December. The delight on their faces was almost enough to get me out running around a mucky field.
Role models like these young women play a huge role in influencing young girls’ choices. This is why at KPMG our commitment to 20x20 is underpinned by our support of young Irish professional golfer Leona Maguire, who turned pro last year, having previously held the world record for the longest unbroken number of weeks at the top of the world female amateur golf rankings. Leona has been the face of KPMG’s support of 20x20 and epitomises the type of role model that can inspire everyone.
We are now in the final year of the 20x20 campaign and the results to date are hugely encouraging. Attendance records were broken at six major women’s sporting events in Ireland last year and #20x20 was the second most used social issue hashtag in Ireland in 2019. We must now build on that success and find new ways to continue to inspire our future generations. At KPMG, we look forward to continuing to proudly support those efforts.