Women show us the power of sport
2019-07-01 15:00:38 -

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin


Watching the Women’s World Cup has been a wonderful experience for all sports lovers, many of us wondering why it took so long for such blanket coverage of a women’s competition to make it to our television screens.


The online images of girls watching with their soccer boots still on is heartwarming, and makes the positive impression on these young minds all the more encouraging. In promoting greater emphasis on girls and women’s sport in Irish society, the 20x20 campaign posted a video of young girls unable to name a female sporting role model. Surely young girls will now want to be the new Alex Morgan or Megan Rapinoe.


I’m reminded of the tournament that made me fall in love with the beautiful game as a nine year old in 1986. For me and the children of that era, we all wanted to be Diego Maradona. Watching the feature-length documentary on Maradona in the Irish Film Institute last month, I could feel that youthful magic again. Watching images of a national icon, lifting the spirits of his native Argentina and of his adopted home of Naples, was incredibly heart-stirring.


Maradona was of indigenous decent and born into abject poverty in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. His story is one of pure genius, and of a man who united a country in their love and adoration for him, and how he struggled to come to terms with that status.


Controversially he joined the side of the most impoverished city in Italy in 1984, the financing of which raised more questions than answers. The people of Naples were derided by the aristocrats of the north, who chanted at the Napoli fans to wash themselves.


Maradona lifted them to the best in Italy. Twice. In 1987 and 1991 they were crowned as Italian champions. The kid from the slums in South America had given the kids in the slums of Naples something to believe in. It made his descent from these heights all the more devastating as he was embroiled in media questions about extra-marital offspring, drug abuse and criminal company-keeping. But he inspired love. And in many ways he still does.


Megan Rapinoe has a brother, Brian, who has spent most of his life in prison. She is a member of the LGBT community and is a vocal critic of President Trump, announcing in very direct language that she had no interest in visiting the White House as his guest. She is the star player in a team of stars and one who is lifting spirits right across her country and across the world.


This is the power of sport. All the more reason for the FAI to realise its massive responsibility as the storage room of pre-teen dreams, but also as a vehicle for children of all backgrounds to lift their own communities. That is why recent controversies have hurt so much — because the potential for the game of soccer in Ireland is so great. Children of all backgrounds playing and dreaming together.


New strategies and plans are being promoted left, right and centre, from charismatic sources such as Niall Quinn and Brian Kerr. The names that are appearing on underage Ireland shirts gives a glimpse of a bright future. The change that seems to be afoot needs to accept the responsibility of allowing children to believe in magic.


Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is a Labour Party Senator.

TAGS : women empowerment soccer USWNT
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