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Equality Not Tokenism

After a successful World Cup here's why we need to keep increasing the number of female panellists in Irish sports coverage

We reached out to TV broadcasters to see what their plans are for the future.


BACK AT THE very start of the World Cup, I wrote a piece reflecting why it was so important for me to see a gender-balanced panel discussing the World Cup on television. It could be viewed as gushing but the point I wanted to make was that this was a step forward in the right direction, but should no means be the end result.

The World Cup marked a couple of milestones for TV networks. Vicki Sparks became the first woman to commentate on a match for the BBC while RTÉ had four female pundits on their books up from zero in 2014. These are great things, but given how long it’s taken to get to this point, it kind of feels long overdue.

That being said, women pundits seem to have to prove themselves a lot more than the male pundits, as Patrice Evra’s treatment of Eni Aluko shows.

Now some might say he was just complimenting her on her knowledge but stop and ask yourselves, would he have done that to a male pundit? Probably not. Normalisation is one of the ways we can stop this kind of patronising behaviour and make women’s voices more common in football specifically and in sports coverage in general.

We reached out to both RTÉ and TV3 to see if they have a specific strategy aimed at increasing the number of female panellists. TV3 did not give an official response but RTÉ told that they’re;

Consistently striving to improve gender balance across coverage of men’s and women’s sport.”

They also praised the number of women they have behind the scenes.

RTÉ Sport has a wealth of female talent, both behind the cameras – including the deputy head of TV Sport, producers, directors, sub-editors and researchers – and in front of them – through presenters, reporters, panellists and co-commentators. This applies across RTÉ’s coverage of both men’s and women’s sport.”

We know some of these incredibly talented women such as Jacqui Hurley, Clare MacNamara, Joanne Cantwell and Evanne NiChuillin.

RB2_9675 Host of Sunday Sport, Jacqui Hurley RTÉ RTÉ

Of course, the World Cup is the big event every 4 years and with so many games, you need more panellists but the real question is, are we going to see more female panellists on RTÉ’s Champions League coverage or their coverage for the Republic of Ireland’s qualification campaign for the Euros?

It’s all well and good wheeling out women for the big events but until we see an increase in female panellists across their weeknight coverage, it’s still a token gesture rather than equality.

Let me be clear, the best person for the job should get the job, that’s not up for debate. But given how excluded women have been from sports, an increase from zero to four female pundits, while promising, isn’t exactly trailblazing. Maybe it’s not supposed to be,  but as an avid viewer of football from an early age, I feel we could do with a bit more female representation across the board.

It’s up to broadcasters like RTÉ to lead the way and start the normalisation process. One would hope in five or ten years down the line, this won’t be an issue, but in order for that to happen, we need to keep pushing.

I’ve never heard a woman commentate or co-commentate on a football match on RTÉ. Let’s start there.

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