Darren Cleary on why talking about 'serious support' isn't good enough

Watching Rena Buckley relay her tale it was hard not to get angry. The sheer stupidity was unspeakable, one of the most decorated athletes on the island was not worthy of bestowing medals on a gaggle of 11-year-olds. The only reason? Because the recipients were boys.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of that anecdote is that Buckley did indeed acquiesce to the bonkers request on that night, it is beyond baffling that no right minded decent human stepped in on her behalf, stopped and said: ‘This is bollox’.

Buckley’s story went viral; sports fans female and male were astounded at the ignorance that still pervades when it comes to discussing women in sport. She was the first woman in Cork to captain camogie and football inter-county teams to All-Ireland success and has won a record breaking 18 All Ireland medals across both sports.

Buckley relayed the tale on a live broadcast on Off The Ball.com of the 20x20 launch: “I was asked last year to present medals to, they were Under-12 and Under-14s. So the club had won a regional competition or a county competition.

“In my mind I thought there was a huge shift after coming in women’s sport, but I remember last year I was asked to present medals to a club team in west Cork,” she began.

“The boys and girls had come together and they had won the U14 championship in ladies football and the U12 in boys. So they asked me to come down and present the medals.

“I went along and when I got down there on the night the lad who invited me took me aside and said ‘look we’re really sorry, but the GAA team actually don’t want you to present the boys with the medals.’

"They got some local guy to do it. He was absolutely mortified, he could hardly look at me, he was really embarrassed.

“That’s just the mindset of whoever’s organising it. So we’re looking for a shift in that. It’s a rare thing but it does happen. That was in 2017, you know? That wasn’t in in 1986.

“So we are looking for this massive shift, and I suppose this [20x20 campaign] is looking to accelerate that as quickly as we can.”

This is just some of the disgraceful discrimination women in sport have been putting up with in Ireland for as long as they’ve laced up boots or pulled on a jersey. The time is now to end it, sport doesn’t discriminate. If you are to have any success at the top level it requires unreasonable amounts of time, energy and dedication. The sacrifices are real and they are no less for women operating at the elite level.

There is clearly a lot of work to be done, the attendance record was broken at the All-Ireland Ladies Football final this year when over 50,000 fans turned up to Croke Park to watch Dublin get one over their fierce rivals Cork. Weeks previously a double header of Camogie semi-finals at Pairc Ui Chaoimh drew a paltry crowd, that’s putting it kindly.

Female athletes are not awarded the same resources, respect and admiration as their male counter-parts. That's despite putting in as much time and effort. Changing that will take time and there is no quick fix but everyone who feels that Rena Buckley was wronged owe it to woman to do something. 

All stakeholders in sport have a responsibility to act to try and address inequality in sport in Ireland. The media, clubs, sponsors and the general public should share this burden. But it is Joe and Jane Public that have the most power to effect positive change.

If you want women's sport to be more visible in Ireland then prove to the papers, tv stations and radio outlets that you care and want to consume it. Sports shows, back pages and bulletins have their agenda set by what interests the public.

If the public want more coverage of women's sport, the media will be more than happy to provide it, but the public need to show they are serious too. It is all well and good to be pissed off by what a legend like Rena Buckley had to endure, but if you want to change that perception and to try and make sure that something like that never happens again put the phone down, get to a game, put your bum on a seat. Tweeting #SeriousSupport or #20x20 is great and fair play, but don’t let those words ring hollow. Show some serious support.

Buckley shared her story at the launch of the 20x20 campaign, a movement aimed at increasing the media coverage, attendances and involvement in female sport by 20% by 2020.