Irish people are renowned for many things, everything from our ‘céad míle fáilte’ to our unique sense of humour but one characteristic is known to those all over the world and it is one that cannot be disputed. That is our passion for sport.
Whether it’s a small circle of soccer fans belting out ‘Come On You Boys In Green’ in stadiums in Georgia or Armenia or rugby lovers embracing the long haul flights to New Zealand and Chicago in order to watch the heroics of their players, Irish people will stop at nothing to support any team or athlete wearing green.
What is special about these Irish sports fans is that they do not discriminate. If an Irish team or athlete is competing or doing well, they will get behind them wholeheartedly regardless of gender or what sport it is. It’s often said that Irish people support men far more than they support women but much of this can be put down to the fact that they are not informed about the female competitions.
If they knew what was happening, they would hop straight on the bandwagon, or so is the opinion of Irish professional golfer, Leona Maguire, who has had the backing of Irish fans from the very beginning, both at home and abroad.
“I played my first pro event in New Jersey and there were people out there in Cavan jerseys. I spotted them straight away even though there was quite a few people. That just brings a smile to your face any time you see that and there were people who hadn’t been on a golf course before but they heard that there was a girl from Cavan taking part and they wanted to go see it. I think Irish people are just fantastic like that.”
“We support our own, no matter what it is. Sport is a huge part of our Irish culture, whether it’s GAA, soccer, golf or whatever it is and whether it’s home or abroad, the Irish public really get behind it and I definitely felt that over my career. I think the interest in sport is definitely there, it’s just a case of encouraging it.”
“It’s a special thing to be Irish.”
Spreading the word about female events is one of the key targets of the 20×20 campaign which aims to increase media coverage, attendances and involvement in female sport by 20% by 2020. As part of the campaign, a video was released of a number of young girls explaining why they loved playing sport.
However, none of them could name a female star they looked up to in their respective favourite sports. Maguire had a similar problem as a child.
“I’ve been chatting to a few people who’ve seen the 20×20 video and we were like the kids in the video because when I was young, it was the guys I looked up to. It was Padraig, and Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke and those guys and Annika Sorenstam, she’s Swedish and she was one of the best there is but the fact that she wasn’t Irish just made her a little bit less relatable and also the fact that she wasn’t on the TV every week. So I looked to other sports, the likes of Serena and Katie Taylor or people like that instead and obviously, the guys instead for the golf.”
Because of this, the former World Number One amateur is keenly aware of her status as a role model for young girls interested in golf, despite how strange it feels.
“Anything that I can do to use my platform to help young girls in sport, even in golf as well, is something that I’m really glad to be a part of. I’d like to think that I’d be a role model for young girls coming up in golf. I know that any time I’ve played in any of the bigger pro tournaments and stuff, it’s a little strange almost now having gone to them in the past and gotten players autographs or pictures and now people are looking for mine so it’s a little strange! But it’s something I’m more than happy to do.”
Golf is one of the better sports in terms of equality. Major pro tournaments and competitions are often broadcast while individual successes are more-often-than-not documented. While the 23-year-old is grateful for the coverage and sponsorship she receives from Irish journalists and companies, she admits that the sport has still a long way to go.
“I suppose tennis is probably one of the ones with the goal standard. Golf is getting there. We’re fortunate that we probably get more media coverage than some of the other sports do. It still has a way to go but we’ve got a lot of really good companies that have come in sponsorship-wise. I’m very fortunate to have sponsors like Allianz and KPMG who’ve backed me since the very beginning and I know other athletes haven’t been as fortunate in other sports.”
“I’m definitely lucky to be in a sport where there’s a big connection between the media, business and golf and people see that link but at the same time, it’s not all that often that you can turn on the telly and see women’s golf being played either. We’re probably a little bit ahead of it but I think the 20×20 campaign will be a big help.”
“A lot of people say that the likes of Katie Taylor and Annalise Murphy winning their Olympic medals would have got a lot more coverage if they had been men and they’ve been some of the biggest success stories in Irish sport over the last few years. I’ve been fortunate that the Irish golf writers have given me a lot of coverage over the last few years and they keep a really good eye on what’s going on in the world of golf. The Irish public are great for getting behind teams and behind athletes but they need to know about it. If they don’t know about it, then they can’t get behind it.”
So that’s the message of this initiative in its simplest form, “if they don’t know about it, then they can’t get behind it”, or as their slogan reads, “if she can’t see it, she can’t be it”. Assembling the building blocks seems to be rather straight-forward. Tell people about female sports, what’s going on, where it’s happening and what time.
Little by little, crowds will begin to form and follow the team. And one little girl in the crowd might be inspired to pick up a golf club or football or whatever it may be and practise to be like the stars she has just seen. Suddenly, you have not just one avid fan, but a whole family of them and so it multiplies. This campaign has laid the foundation for that growth. Now it is up to those Irish sports fanatics, media outlets and businesses to build it up together.
Pictured is Leona Maguire 20×20 KPMG ambassador, the new campaign presented by the Federation of Irish Sport and originated and developed by the creative agency Along Came A Spider and supported by Healthy Ireland which sets out to create a measurable cultural shift in our perception of women’s sport so that it will be seen as something strong, valuable and worth celebrating.
The campaign, championed by Ireland’s National Governing Bodies and Local Sports Partnerships, is calling on the people of Ireland and all those involved in Irish sport and physical activity to get behind female sport in a concerted effort to increase media coverage, boost attendances and ultimately, grow involvement in female sport and physical activity by 20% by the end of 2020.