‘We’ve been changing in public toilets’: Republic of Ireland women threaten to strike

Guardian sport
Captain Emma Byrne, bottom right, has alleged that some players have been forced to give up playing for their country. Photograph: Farmer/Inpho/Rex/Shutterstock

Members of the Republic of Ireland women’s football team have threatened to go on strike after accusing their governing body of failing to provide the team adequate support, including being forced to get changed in public toilets on the way to matches and sharing tracksuits with youth-team squads.

Twelve of the squad attended a press conference on Tuesday in the lead-up to the friendly against Slovakia next week to complain about their treatment, despite being warned by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) that going public with their grievances could “endanger their careers at club and international level”.

Accompanied by the Professional Footballers’ Association Of Ireland solicitor Stuart Gilhooly, the forward Aine O’Gorman alleged that they have been forced to find alternative changing facilities before matches while the captain, Emma Byrne – who has 127 caps – said the team had “given up” trying to deal directly with the FAI.

“We have been getting changed in public toilets on the way to matches,” O’Gorman said.

Gilhooly said: “They are being treated as fifth-class citizens, the dirt on the FAI’s shoe. There is a possibility that the game against Slovakia will not go ahead. The last thing the women’s international team want is to not play a game.”

Byrne, who plays for Arsenal Ladies, said: “We are willing to do whatever it takes at this stage. We are fighting for the future of women’s international football. This isn’t just about us. I know players who have had to stop playing. They made the decision they couldn’t play any more.”

In response, an FAI statement said: “We are deeply disappointed that members of the team have threatened to withdraw from playing for their country.

“The ultimatum by the players concerned comes in spite of repeated invitations from the FAI to the players to discuss clear and tangible financial offers for the payment and compensation of members of the squad.

“On five occasions in recent months the FAI has attempted to bring the players to the table, only to have the offer rebuked at every turn.

“The senior women’s national team are provided the standards of care expected of a demanding high-performance environment, with top-level training facilities, hotel accommodation, dietary, fitness, performance analysis and medical and physio care.

“The team has also received significant increases in budget in recent years to attain this high standard, as well as the appointment of a Champions League winning coach.”

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