IN 1995, KATE Rowan’s class in Marino were asked to write why they deserved to meet some of Dublin’s recently-minted All-Ireland champions. She didn’t get picked, however, and sought an explanation.
“Well, your parents aren’t members of the club and you have a Protestant surname.”
“From that moment on, GAA wasn’t for me”, says Kate on this week’s episode of Behind the Lines.
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She found her sport in rugby, which she covered as a freelancer for five years before landing a full-time role writing about the sport for the Daily Telegraph in the UK. And while it has been a job filled with good experiences and opportunities, last month she revealed a “dark underbelly” to the sport which has occasionally left her wondering whether she should continue.
Writing in the Telegraph last month, Kate revealed the physical and emotional abuse to which she has been subjected to as a woman covering the sport. It was filled with horrifying details, from being handed an apron and sent to the kitchen on her first day working at Twickenham to being groped and kicked a various points while working at rugby matches.
She also detailed “micro-aggressions”, which included being passed over for interview requests in favour of male colleagues and being patronised by press officers. One agent once tried to quiz her on the breakdown laws before passing on an interview request.
“I probably had this piece in the back of my mind for over a year”, says Kate on this week’s Behind the Lines.
“My first time in Twickenham, I was literally shown the kitchen. I kept asking people, ‘Where’s the press room’, and I remember so vividly, I was brought into this suite. I thought, ‘This is really nice compared to other places I’ve been, even the Aviva.’
“I was then handed this striped apron. I got overwhelming support [after the piece was published] but one woman did tweet me to say I was casting aspersions on the men she worked with.
“This isn’t just about the media. This is an overall thing in rugby.
“In 2017 I had my breast touched inappropriately by a security guard. A couple of weeks earlier I had my top ripped and was groped by a fan at a Premiership rugby match.
“It was getting really difficult. There isn’t a ‘secret sisterhood’ you can talk about with these things. I am the only person doing what I do, it was very uncomfortable.
“It gets to the point where I’m going to stadiums, I have a whole thing figured out in my head about different stadiums where, as a woman, you feel safe. There are certain stadiums – the Aviva is a good example – that have great stewards and great security and I know they are good people to talk to and be close to.
Working full-time for the Telegraph has offered Kate more protection and support than she had when freelance, but she decided to write the piece after the BBC’s Sonja McLaughlan and the Independent’s Melissa Reddy detailed some of the abuse they have suffered as women in sports media. Another motivation were the regular emails from other women looking for advice on breaking into the industry.
“What I find worrying is that I’m the only woman who does my job for a national newspaper in the UK”, says Kate. “I get emails every two or three weeks from girls who want to cover rugby. But I didn’t know what to say to them.”
She hopes writing the piece and raising the issues will affect some change.
“I hope so. I have gotten a lot of very positive messages – particularly from governing bodies – and genuinely nice messages from people high up in governing bodies who want to talk to me, who are taking it seriously. I think that will help.
“But there’s always a fear because you’re different. And that comes down even to how I cover rugby. ‘Do I become more technical? I love an ol’ emotional interview, it’s what I really enjoy, but should I do more technical pieces to look more in with the lads?’ It doesn’t go away.