On September 9, 2021, the annual Scottish Women in Sport Conference will make a grand return after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tickets are still available to ‘The 51% Club’ where our speakers discuss why are there so few women in leadership roles in sport.

While there might be few of them, our speaker, Clíona O’Leary clearly proves that women are powerful and knowledgeable in leadership positions and deserve a seat at the table. Working as the Head of TV Sport in RTÉ for 11 years now, Clíona has been a part of several conversations about equality, representation and opportunities for women, which she will share with our guests next week.

Clíona is a lifetime sports enthusiast. Having participated in gymnastics, horse-riding, jazz ballet, football and volleyball as a child and young adult, it was an obvious choice for her to continue in the line of work she adored so much. Excited and anxious to get started as an intern at RTÉ, (Ireland’s Public Service Media), her first peek behind the curtain was a letdown.

“Sports media is male-dominated on and off-screen”, she sighs, “and ultimately and for the most part, I blindly accepted the way it was, not realizing the invisible barriers that were embedded in the structures of sport and sports media. In 2013, a woman from the RTÉ Audience Council, Sharon Hutchenson, started to question me and this questioning helped me to recognise my unconscious bias, and, ever since, I have been in pursuit of how we can create a more equal landscape for sport.”

Now with open eyes and armed with knowledge, Clíona fights for parity and equal representation, which is often met with criticism.

“For many people outside of sport, it is hard to understand the massive gender disparities which exist in the world of sport,” she explains. “It is the one genre in media where there are such massive inequalities, for example, low percentage of coverage, low numbers of female pundits/presenters/commentators/reporters – it’s accepted because ‘it’s sport!’ which is viewed as ‘a male domain’.”

According to UNESCO, ‘outside major sporting events, 40% of all sports participants are women, yet women’s sports receive only around 4% of all sports media coverage. And, of that limited coverage, women are often objectified or demeaned.’

These issues around media representation are the most noticeable for readers and viewers, yet some still dismiss statistics by saying that ‘nobody is interested in watching women’s sport’, which is simply not true. The deeper we look, however, the more problems we find.

“Also, the gender pay gap is a global phenomenon, reflecting wider gender inequality practices, but research shows that the pay gap is nowhere more apparent than in the world of sports,” Clíona adds. For example, in 2019, Carli Lloyd, the highest-paid female footballer in the world only earned 0.3% of what Lionel Messi took home.

Speaking of finances, sponsorships in women’s sport are also scarce. Clíona shares: “Statista discovered that a minuscule 0.4% of the world’s total sports sponsorship between 2011 and 2013 was spent on women’s sport, and even though from 2013 to 2017, the number of sponsorship deals has increased by 47%, there are still significant disparities.”

She explains that progress towards gender equality is slow everywhere, but especially in the world of sport. She, however, is here to fight until we reach a more fair system.

“By showing more women’s sports and, in turn, more female sporting role models, content providers have the power to inspire the next generation, challenge behind-the-scenes misogyny and fully serve democracy. I am a firm believer in the need for targets, regular monitoring and reporting to expedite equality.”

At the SWIS Conference, Clíona will discuss representation and equality in more detail and share information about the European Broadcast Union’s Women in Sport Handbook. “It is full of best-practice examples and suggestions for how to create more equal sports coverage in the media, from EBU members across Europe”, she says.

To listen to Clíona’s full presentation and many more speakers and debates, join the Scottish Women in Sport Conference on September 9th at Tynecastle, Edinburgh. Tickets are still available!

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