Picture the following scene…
Galway race week. A TV presenter is conducting interviews between races. Here is one excerpt, with an on-course bookmaker;
‘So, do you find it an advantage being a young pretty girl, or do the punters take you seriously?’
Followed by ‘do you even like racing?’
So – a ‘Reeling in the Years’ type clip from the 50s? Wrong.
Carried out by, say, John McCririck? Wrong again.
The above interaction took place TODAY (1st August 2013). Between, Maeve O’ Neill, bookmaker, and MAURA DERRANE, an RTE presenter.
Incredulous? I certainly was. And so was Maura in fact, with her gasping, breathy tones. Blown away she was, to discover a member of her own sex working on a racecourse.
It would be easy to dismiss this as just a silly comment. But it’s indicative of a greater malaise. Once upon a time, horseracing was a male preserve. But women as trainers, jockeys, bookies, stable staff, racecourse managers – they are no longer in short supply. Can we never get past this?! Unlike soccer, tennis etc with separate gender versions, men and women owners, trainers, jockeys etc all compete together – can we ever just drop the tokenism? Do Katy Walsh and Nina Carberry – to name but two – long to be simply recognised as the excellent, top of their game, sportspeople that they are?
At least Channel 4 offloaded aforementioned charm-school John McCririck in their recent reincarnation. With his annual ‘token woman’ interview of bookie Ellen Martin at Cheltenham, and constant referring to co presenter Tanya Stephenson as ‘the female’, he is not missed. In fact, Ch4’s current stable of male/female presenters is as balanced as it is knowledgeable.
But over here, RTE trundle to keep up. Tracy Piggott appears to be the token female. She thoroughly knows her stuff and has a relaxed, easy manner. (Sidebar: in a Paul O’ Connell interview once, a giddy Tracy admired his physique and actually asked to feel his muscles. Perhaps being accustomed to whippet jockeys she just got carried away…)
I digress. Apart from Tracy, RTE Racing only seem to draft in women for what we’ll call ‘the fashions’. Gráinne and Sile Seoige, Kathryn Thomas and today, Maura and her star turn. Apart from flitting around seeking out women to doorstep about their ‘outfits’, they will also interview celebs they trip across and, as we saw today, ‘token’ women. (Maura later interviewed rugby player Sean O’ Brien and gamely asked him ‘on behalf of all Irish women’ where he’d be socialising later tonight. Sigh….)
I don’t even necessarily blame these women – entirely – for this. All highly capable and talented in their own right – why the dumbing down? What is the brief they are given to do the job?
‘Racing knowledge isn’t necessary. Just look pretty, dress up, do the ‘fluff’ pieces’.
And if not as dire as that – then what is it exactly? Because the execution of it is frankly embarrassing.
People who sit down to watch horseracing (me) don’t want to watch fashion. And anyone tuning in for fashion isn’t much bothered with the racing. Why always mix the two to such a huge degree? RTE not the only guilty party here. Why not just show one after the other.
And if talking women and RTE racing, we must mention Jennifer Walsh. Daughter of Ted, sister of Ruby (and also his agent). But she is curiously drafted in by RTE to ‘shepherd’ jockeys from the winners enclosure over to their post race interview. Sometimes she takes them by the arm as she chaperones. Sometimes she holds their helmet and crop as they weigh in. Why? Why? Why? Every jockey, everywhere else, seems to manage an interview unescorted. But not in RTE land. I am always just embarrassed for the girl.
But getting back to blame. RTE Racing still has a lot of hurdles to get over. And Maura Derrane? You are a successful, professional woman. Can you not recognise that in others? Your line of questioning today was like something from the Dark Ages. Hang your head in shame, girl!