Some reflections on women's sports

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter continues the discussion of themes already addressed in chapter5 by Ryan, and focuses particularly on the role of sport in identity-formation,especially as it relates to the self-conceptions and social ranking of men andwomen. The various contributions to this volume highlight other importantaspects of the sport–society relationship, such as the role that sport plays inthe production and reproduction of a national identity in times of socialconflict, as well as the historical emergence of Gaelic sports on this island.Besides that, all contributors share a common focus on a particular form ofsports: the use of a physically active body capable of competing against another,often in close physical proximity and sometimes with the requirement that acompetitor make direct physical contact with an opponent (as in combatsports such as ice-hockey, rugby football, association football or soccer, Gaelicfootball). I shall suggest, taking account of wider sociological argumentsconcerning sport and the body (e.g. Bourdieu, 1988; 1990), that sport isparticularly important in the maintenance of visible differences between maleand female bodies. This has significant implications for the development andorganisation of sports generally, and women’s sports specifically. Public andprivate financial investment in, and sponsorship of, sports depend on a highmedia profile, sporting success, public interest and support. Thus, what onemight call ‘the sporting body’ can be said to stand at the centre of an interrelatednexus of commercial, cultural, state, regional, local and individualinterests. Moreover, images and expressions of the body vary across time,space, culture and location and the ‘ideal’ Irish sporting body is contested bysports participants and supporters alike.In the first section, Irish sports are presented as a fully functioning, selfregulatingand dynamic social arena with their own set of rules or structuringprinciples – or, in Pierre Bourdieu’s terms, as a social ‘field’ (1990: 156).Thediscussion then moves on to examine the relationship between the field ofIrish sports and the predominant systems of bodily preferences in thatcountry, and their impact on the practices of male and female sportspeople.Using this framework, I examine empirical findings on sport and physicalactivity in the Republic of Ireland, particularly gendered differences in ratesand perceptions of, and motivations for, participation in sports. I concludewith a reappraisal of the role of sport in identity-testing, particularly inrelation to the physical expression of a gendered identity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSport and the Irish
Place of PublicationDublin
PublisherUniversity College Dublin
ISBN (Print)9781904558330
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 18 Jun 2005

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  • Sport, Gender and Representation: The Women's Gaelic Players' Association

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