The Story of Irish Women Athletes: By the numbers

Published: Apr 6, 3:24pm Last Updated: Sep 22, 3:57pm Miscellaneous 0 Comments 343 Views

Nearly two-thirds of Irish people want to see our female sports stars reach the same heights in their careers as our sportsmen do. 

So why, then, was the number of Irish women on the Forbes list of highest-paid athletes zero? And why is women’s sport getting less than 10% coverage on Irish media?

When we looked at online coverage of Ireland’s top female sports stars versus the top male sports stars, we saw males get almost double the coverage, and yet women get only 33% less engagement in the form of likes and shares. Clearly, the potential demand is there. 

We’ve taken a deep dive into the world of women’s sports in Ireland to find out why our female athletes aren’t making the list, and what’s being done about it. 

Part I: A Story of Irish Women Athletes In Numbers


63%: Percentage of Irish people who would like to see Ireland’s sportswomen become national heroes in the same way as our sportsmen. 


So why aren’t they? First, let’s take a quick look at female participation in sport in Ireland. 

Although male participation in popular sports like football, rugby and golf is generally significantly higher than that of females, Irish women hold their own in plenty of mainstream sports. 

  • Rowing Ireland: 55% women. 
  • Hockey Ireland: 45% women. 
  • Basketball Ireland: 38% women.


Clearly, women’s participation in national sports is not the issue. Women are showing up, taking part and performing to high standards in their sports, just like our male athletes.


9.6%: Coverage of women’s sport across print, online media and TV in 2019. 


Turn on any TV channel, turn any page in the newspaper, turn to your favourite sports website: you’ll see plenty of updates and coverage of men’s sports. 

Let’s have a look at a little case study: 

In the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, Ireland played Italy in both the Men’s and Women’s events on the same weekend. 

In GAA, this same weekend also saw the opening fixtures in the All Ireland Hurling Championship and the Liberty Insurance All Ireland Camogie Championship. 

How much coverage did the women’s fixtures get? 

  • The Irish Times: 0%
  • The Irish Examiner: 20%
  • The Irish Independent 9%
  • The Guardian: 12%


The coverage for women’s sports simply isn’t there. Although small improvements have been made in recent years, we cannot expect our sportswomen to achieve the same stardom as our sportsmen if we never hear about their successes. 


0: Number of female Irish athletes on Forbes’ 20 richest athletes in 2020 

Let’s take a look at how female athletes’ salaries compare to those of males.

The Sport:

The Pay:

Men’s Salary:

Women’s Salary:


Basic Appearance Fee




Six Nations 2020 Prize Money




Rugby World Cup 2019 Prize Money




FA Cup 2020 Prize Money

£3.6 million



Part 2: Challenges faced by women in sports

Is it true that there is no market for women’s sports?  

“Women used to rank more prominently among the top-earning athletes, but over the past 25 years, media companies have spent billions on TV deals for live sports content. The result is an explosion in player salaries in the major men's sports leagues. Team sport athletes represent 82% of Forbes’ highest-paid athletes’ list.” 


"Football's gender pay gap is worse than in any other profession. The bottom line is that there must be decent and secure jobs for women as professional footballers.”

  • Diane Caldwell, soccer player 

"I am very lucky in my sport because I feel it is one of the few sports in the world where men and women are somewhat equal. We compete in the same venues on the same day, with the same tickets sold.

That also means that the TV coverage and media coverage of my sport of athletics is usually equal. Our prize money is the same and our chance of sponsorship is even."

  • Ciara Mageean, athletics (Source: 

“Budgets for inter-county teams are minuscule compared with our male counterparts, with a typical ladies football team’s yearly budget the equivalent of some of the top men’s teams training camps.

Female teams are still battling with the use of local facilities for training, home county ground use for league and championship games and most struggle to bag the major sponsorship deals that admirably some of the more established teams are making.”

  • Fiona McHale, Gaelic Football (Source: 

Beauty standards factor in. Female athletes earn almost the same as men when it comes to endorsements. 

“Excluding men's star Roger Federer, elite female tennis players compare very well with their male counterparts in terms of endorsement earnings. Excluding men's star Roger Federer, elite female tennis players compare very well with their male counterparts in terms of endorsement earnings. 

The most marketable tennis players made four times as much from endorsements and appearance fees as they did from prize money over the last year. Among the 10 highest-paid female athletes in 2018, nine were tennis players. Women in male-dominated sports such as racecar driver Danica Patrick and UFC and WWE star Ronda Rousey ranked among the top earners in their sports when they were active.” 


Women’s sports are not being marketed as much as men’s sports. 

“The US women’s soccer team has brought the conversation to the forefront over the last three years. After they won the World Cup in 2015, it was revealed that the US women’s team was paid a quarter of what the men earned. This was despite the women generating $20m more than the men that year.

In March, the women’s team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against US Soccer. The media lasered in on the equal pay portion of the lawsuit but ignored other facets. And there’s one issue in the lawsuit that is more important than equal pay: the argument that the women’s team is not marketed or promoted as much as the men, which leads to lower attendances and merchandise sales.” 


Part 3: What is being done?

  • OFI Gender Equality in Sport webinars: After the postponement of a planned Gender Equality conference in March due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the Olympic Federation of Ireland ran a series of webinars over the four weeks of July covering Gender Equality under different headings each week; Coaching, Leadership, Governance and Portrayal. The events were supported by Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport initiative. 


  • Women in Sports Funding: The government's total investment in 2020 for Irish Rugby Football Union is €120,000; Confederation of Golf is €100,000. Total for all sports is €1,431,000 vs. €1,581,000 from 2019. 


  • Support systems, programmes by Sport Ireland for Women: 

  • Private groups setting initiatives such as the 20x20: They aim for 20% more media coverage of women in sport, 20% more female participation at player, coach, referee & administrative level, 20% more attendance at women’s games and events. 

  • The emergence of websites dedicated to reporting on the achievements and stories of women in sports.


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