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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 20 November, 2019

Here's why RTÉ having a gender-balanced panel during the World Cup is so important

Jacqui Hurley was in the hot seat with Stephanie Roche, Shay Given and Kevin Doyle.

FOOTBALL HAS BEEN an important aspect of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s one of the things that myself and my dad bond and argue over.

My first real memory is the World Cup in 2002. My dad bought myself and my brother big plastic hammers in the tricolour. It was the best present ever and cemented my obsession with the beautiful game. I listen to any podcast I can get my hands on about and watch it whenever I get the chance.

While watching football panels you notice that there are very few if any women on them. I don’t recall ever seeing a female panelist on RTÉ or BBC or ITV. If I had seen a female panelist, it would have been more alien to me than anything else. Sure there was uproar when there was a female lines woman remember ?

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Today during the Uruguay vs Egypt game, RTÉ had a gender balanced panel which is something that made my heart leap. Jacqui Hurley was joined by former goalkeeper Shay Given, former striker Kevin Doyle and current Irish and Sunderland striker Stephanie Roche who of course was nominated for a Puska’s award against in 2014.

Stephanie Roche is an incredible athlete in her own right but as we learnt today she’s also a fantastic pundit. She knows what she’s talking about and can offer unique insights. The same goes for Shay Given and Kevin Doyle as the 3 worked well together while Jacqui Hurley did a great job hosting the entire thing.

What’s refreshing about this line up is that you know Stephanie Roche and Jacqui Hurley are there on merit rather than being the token female pundit. They’re there to offer insight and expertise showing they can do just as good a job as Darragh Moloney, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy, not that anyone ever suggested they couldn’t.

People seemed really enthusiastic about it too.

Representation is incredibly important. When I was 10 years old, I never thought I’d see women talking about football. My experience as being a girl obsessed with football is that I was a tomboy and that I had to prove my knowledge in the game before boys would accept me. It’s something women in experience in general, we need to be experts in something before we’re allowed to speak on it.

Never did I imagine in my wildest dreams that I’d see a gender balanced panel talking about football at a World Cup and not being talked over or undermined.

Research conducted by Lidl last year suggested that around 72% of teenage girls give up sport  completely because they don’t feel as encouraged as their male counterparts. A gender balanced panel on RTÉ isn’t going to cure that and we still have a very long way to go in football in general but it’s a start.

And it’s a very welcome start indeed.

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About the author:

Rachel O'Neill

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