10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
That was one of a number of clear messages to emerge from 'the Business of Women's Sport' Conference at the UCD Smurfit Business School on Thursday.
The conference heard from those who have begun to capitalise, including Annette Ní Dhathlaoi, head of marketing with Liberty Insurance on the ground-breaking sponsorship of both the All Ireland Hurling and Camogie Championships, Simon McBeth of eFlow who have demonstrated equality in their various sporting sponsorships across soccer and rowing, and Liz Ferris of the Women in Business Alliance who considered what business needs from Women's Sport in order to support it.
The attendance of 100 leaders in sport and business participated in innovative round table sessions which produced a number of clearly defined action points.
The conference also heard from panels including Malachy Logan, sports editor of the Irish Times, Ireland Women's Grand Slam-winning rugby team manager Gemma Crowley, Republic of Ireland Women's soccer manager Sue Ronan and 200-cap Women's hockey international Nikki Symmons amongst others.
In his speech to welcome delegates, Sport for Business founder Rob Hartnett said: "Women's sport is not something to be brushed aside or left to the sidelines. We can send out a message today, amplifying the work that has already begun, that Women's sport is right here, right now.
"Women's sport is worthy on merit of the right to be given parity of esteem, as well as much greater consideration in terms of sports coverage and commercial investment.
"A recent survey in the UK revealed that of the total commercial investment in sport 33% went to events like Wimbledon that give Men's and Women's sport an equal billing.
"Over 60% went exclusively to sporting teams and events for men, and only 0.5% to those for women. I'll do the sums - Men's sport accounts for 120 times that of Women's in terms of commercial investment."
He added: "Women's sport is an uncluttered market, meaning smart business can own vast swathes of sporting assets for amounts that will fit neatly even into today's constrained marketing budgets.
"Our job today is to nudge forward the momentum in Women's sport, help translate it into language and stories that will attract business and make sure that when the next major contract comes up for renewal that the decision makers are considering Women's sport.
"Do not think that is impossible. Do not believe that we are tilting at windmills and that this will never happen. It's happening now.
"In five years' time my eldest daughter will be nearly 18-years-old. I want her to be playing sport, enjoying sport and living a healthier life through sport, just as I hope the same for my sons."
Hartnett cited a number of successful sponsors from across the water, including Investec's £2.2million five-year support of Women's hockey in England, and added that BMW, Cadbury and Electric Ireland are supporting Women's sport and 'making it more attractive to ever wider audiences'.
"We need to imagine a future and then engineer it. We are looking at today but we are looking forward to tomorrow.
"With the right smart thinking and the right imagination we can produce a better future for Women's sport, and for the businesses that have the courage and the foresight to back it," he added.
Gemma Crowley managed the Ireland Women's team to their first ever Grand Slam in the Six Nations earlier this year, and is also the team manager for the Ireland squad that will compete at the Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament in Moscow next week.
Reflecting on the conference and what came out of it, Crowley said: "It was really interesting and a great opportunity to get like-minded people from the sporting world into the same room to share experiences and ideas.
"It also provided an opportunity to make potential sponsors and businesses aware of the potential within Women's sport.
"What particularly struck me is Rob Hartnett's genuine enthusiasm and desire to bring Women's sport to the top of the game in terms of publicity and recognition. His enthusiasm is infectious.
"I remember being at a round table discussion with Sport for Business last year on 'Women in Sport' from which the idea of the Sport for Daughters initiative came about. It's great to see that this wasn't just left in a meeting room but instead has had life injected into it and was launched yesterday.
"The overall census leaving the conference yesterday was that, as we know, Women's sport is a massive area of growth and a movement that is going to continue to gain momentum.
"It is an untapped market for potential sponsors who need to follow in the footsteps of Liberty Insurance and invest in sponsorship of the Women's game.
"The future of Women's sport is bright and here's hoping that the powers-that-be and media realise this and publicity for women in sport continues to grow."
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