Ollie McDonnell with daughters Evie (right) and Faye.

Castletown man aiming to amend attitudes in sport

Before the era of lockdowns and incessant talk of vaccines, Castltown man Ollie McDonnell regularly spent Saturday mornings at Balreask Old in the home of Navan Rugby Club coaching the skills of the game to youngsters.

A former player with Aer Lingus he started out four years ago working with the u-10 and u-12 girls teams becoming involved mainly because his daughters - Evie and Faye - were just starting out in their apprenticeships in the oval-ball game.

Then, randomly, one morning one of his daughters said something that got him thinking.

"We were going into the rugby club one morning about two years ago and out of the blue Evie said to me: "Why are the boys teams not called the u-12 boys team, why are they called the u-12s?'"

The question got him thinking because, he says, the u-12 girls team was known as the u-12 girls team.

"I didn't have an answer to that question, but I started to look at team sports in a broader context and how they are labelled," added McDonnell, the managing director of a company called Synergy that is involved in book-keeping and stock-taking for outlets involved in the hospitality sector.

The conclusion he came to after thinking carefully about it is that there is an inherent bias towards females in sport even in what might be perceived as simple, straightforward matters such as the way fixtures are made out.

"It's a very subtle, subconscious message that's sent out to young girls," he said.

"Because I have two daughters I see the world through the eyes of 10 and 12 year-olds," he added.

Now he is on a mission to change all that right across the sporting spectrum.

He is one of the driving forces behind an initiative with the catchy name: 'Same Name Same Game.'

"What I feel is that basically this labelling of teams and games is sending out a message to young girls that is saying this is a man's sport that women are allowed to play.

"The fact is that when all the female teams are labelled as 'girls,' 'ladies' or 'women' they are basically saying you are allowed to play our sport because no such labels are used for male teams.

"I feel it is sending out the wrong message.

"Teams should be labelled the 'men's teams' as well as 'women's teams' - the language needs to change.

"When I hear Meath men are playing Dublin men next weekend automatically I think: 'Oh I wonder are the women playing as well.'

The fixture between Dublin and Meath in a Leinster final doesn't mention the word 'men.'

"The idea of 'Same Name, Same Game' is to get the clubs, organisations to change how they label their teams and to change how they are labelling their games.

"I want it to go all the way to the top, I am writing letters to the Six Nations, Leinster Rugby, Munster Rugby, IRFU, FAI and GAA.

"I would love to see it change at the bottom and go all the way up, I would like them to come back to me with an answer at least as to why they won't change."

Another part of McDonnell's strategy is to ask clubs to change the labelling for their teams and he has made some progress on that front.

"I put a proposal to the board of Navan RFC and they agreed to change it. They are the first club to do so and my objective now is to get more clubs on board, to change the language all the way up to the senior teams."

He would like to see it in the GAA, the Meath SFC called the 'Men's SFC' because, he points out, the female version is already well-established as the 'Ladies SFC.'

McDonnell believes that while there's no conscious wish on behalf of organisations to diminish the roles of girls or women in sport, there is something else behind the labelling.

"I think the main reason is fear. Female sport is growing, it's growing faster than men's sport," he added.

"There's a fear that women's sport will gain an equal standing and that will take away from the males' primary position.

"I don't think they intend to discriminate against women in sport.

“It's an unconscious thing, it's certainly not a conscious thing.

“It may have something to do also with the fact that most clubs are run by men.

“One sector already leading the way is athletics.

"If you look at the Athletics Ireland website everything is labelled boys, girls, men, women for every single category."

That, the Castletown businessman believes, is the way to go in all sports, in what are rapidly changing times.

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