On Jan. 13, this advertisement for the “Ladyball” popped up on YouTube. To an American’s eyes it more or less looks like a pink volleyball, one marketed toward women.
“Specially designed for a ladies’ game. Soft touch for a woman’s grip. Easy play for a woman’s ability. And fashion-drive for a woman’s style,” the female voice-over intoned in an advertisement that was just part of what seemed to be a full-bore marketing blitz. There was a Twitter account.
— Lady Ball (@theladyball_com) January 13, 2016
There were newspaper advertisements in Irish publications.
There's now ads in the paper for the lady ball.. This can't be real please say it ain't so pic.twitter.com/1htC8BmGi2
— Rachel (@ityagalrach) January 15, 2016
There even was a spot featuring former Gaelic football player Ger Brennan, who has spoken out against the legalization of same-sex marriage in Ireland. It was officially A Thing in Ireland, in that people were getting all riled up: How, in 2016, could such a sexist, tone-deaf product exist?
— justageek (@ImogenMcN) January 13, 2016
— Dr Tanja Bueltmann (@scotsdiaspora) January 13, 2016
But no, the Lady Ball is not real. The fake ad was a joint effort of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association and Lidl, a European grocery-store chain that has become the league’s official title sponsor. In a video released Friday, the LGFA and Lidl said the Ladyball campaign was created to start a conversation about how women’s sports in general are perceived (and, one must assume, tie the Lidl brand into a cause hopefully perceived as noble).
(Gaelic football is a team sport that’s most popular in Ireland. Players advance a round ball either by carrying it, bouncing it, kicking it or passing it, with the hopes of kicking the ball into a goal or through a set of uprights above it. Think a soccer-rugby hybrid.)
“Through the ‘Ladyball’ initiative Lidl has demonstrated their innovative and dedicated approach to supporting our sport,” LGFA President Marie Hickey said in story posted on the league’s Website. “We hope to see everyone who spoke so passionately in women’s defence in this debate, channel that same energy into pitchside support during the coming season.”
Said Lidl in a statement: “Lidl have also confirmed that they were behind the “Ladyball” product which divided the world of social media over the past few days creating a much needed debate. The fabricated product and associated 360 degree marketing campaign was designed by Lidl, with the support of the LGFA, to put the spotlight on women in sport in Ireland and raise awareness of the difficulties female sports persons have in getting the same recognition as their male counterparts.”
But will it work? The 2015 LGFA final in Dublin drew 31,083, which the Irish Examiner says was the biggest crowd to watch a women’s sporting event in Europe last year. But still, the stadium at which it was held seats 82,000. And for sport-to-sport comparison’s sake, a Euro 2017 qualifying match between the Ireland and Finland women’s soccer teams on Sept. 21 drew just 2,905 to a stadium that seats 6,000.
It was all about putting the spotlight on women in sport in Ireland and raising awareness of the difficulties female sportspeople have in getting the same recognition as their male counterparts.
But doesn’t it just tell you something – that the only time we ever hear about Irish women in sport is in relation to Twitter outrage over a fake product? Where is that passion and support for female sportspeople the rest of the year? Why aren’t more people talking about Irish women in sport?
But few people are talking about women in any sport, of any nationality, at least when compared with the attention lavished on men’s sports. For every Ronda Rousey, Serena Williams or U.S. women’s soccer team — women or groups of women that certainly move the needle — there’s the WNBA, which in its nearly 20 years of existence has barely made a dent in the American sports consciousness; the struggle to establish a foothold for women’s professional soccer in the United States, despite the success and celebrity of the country’s national team; and the continued fight for acceptance by female sports reporters everywhere.
Women’s sports in Ireland — and everywhere else — still have a long way to go until they are regarded as equal in the eyes of the sporting public. One fake ad campaign for an obscure sport sadly won’t do much to change that, no matter how many people were fooled.