The establishment of a new Female Sports Forum aimed at building Northern Ireland’s own Olympics legacy for women’s sport has been warmly welcomed by leading local ladies Grainne McGoldrick and Elaine Rice.
Richard Bullick reports
Sportswomen were central to some of the most iconic images of London 2012, with Ireland’s golden girl Katie Taylor and Team GB’s Jessica Ennis crowned national heroes as well as Olympic champions.
Now a concerted effort is to be made to capitalise locally on that unprecedented positivity towards women’s sport before the London glow fades completely.
Sport NI have allocated funding to the newly-formed Forum, which it is hoped will prove an invaluable vehicle for driving forward a deliverable vision for female sport in N. Ireland.
Made up of representatives of the various governing bodies, the Forum will be a strong collective voice for women’s sport in the north.
One of the Forum’s first actions has been to arrange a series of public consultations in Belfast, Mid-Ulster and Derry which will help them set priorities and shape plans for the next few years.
The Derry event takes place at the Ramada Hotel tomorrow (Wednesday) at noon and places can be reserved by calling 02890 701417.
For those who can’t attend, submissions can be made by email to email@example.com
“We’re in listening mode at present and keen to hear the views of a range of stakeholders – from volunteers at club level to sports development officers to local media and politicians,” explains leading Forum member Angela Platt, the former Ireland hockey goalkeeper from Ballymoney who now runs Ulster Hockey.
The Forum will showcase outstanding sportswomen like Derry camogie captain McGoldrick as positive, visible young role models who can inspire young girls to achieve excellence or at least become more active.
It is also hoped that raising the profile of female sport will make it more attractive commercially and ease the financial commitment which comes with, for example, playing international netball.
“Playing professionally isn’t an option for most sportswomen and everyone’s realistic about that but ending up considerably out of pocket is the harsh reality for the top players in my sport,” said Derry woman Rice, who as coach steered the NI netball team to the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals.
Both Rice and McGoldrick, whose Derry camogs have made a superb start to the season, are optimistic that this new initiative can help women’s sport put its best foot forward in the coming period.
“Women’s sports face similar challenges in terms of batting for funding, media coverage and general recognition so sharing resources and working together to try and increase interest and maximise impact is a positive step,” says McGoldrick.
Young females are less likely to have sporting heroes of their own gender than young males – and it is perhaps no coincidence that there are lower levels of physical activity among teenage girls, something rightly regarded as a ticking time bomb by health professionals.
“If investing in women’s sport and being much more pro-active in promoting it helps get more young girls physically active then it would be money well spent and save the health service a fortune in the long run,” insists Grainne.
As a schoolteacher she understands the challenge of encouraging girls into sport better than most, while Rice – who trains the PE teachers of the future in her role as senior lecturer at St Mary’s University College in Belfast – also feels strongly about this subject.
“Youngsters need heroes to inspire them and plenty of our sportswomen fit the bill as high achievers and great role models but up until now we haven’t done enough to bring their talents and achievements to wider attention,” Rice reflected.