The Republic of Ireland manager, Vera Pauw, says it is right Uefa has opened an investigation after her players were filmed singing a pro-IRA songafter their qualification for their first World Cup.
After being drawn in a treacherous group with Canada, Australia and Nigeria for the 2023 tournament, Pauw hopes the focus can soon turn to football and the significant inroads made by the country’s governing body to address gender inequality.
Ireland’s first major finals berth became mired in controversy last week when the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) apologised for a video that showed the team celebrating their qualifying playoff win over Scotland in their Hampden Park dressing room. In the clip, player are seen singing “Ooh ah, up the ’RA” – words associated with support for the Irish Republican Army.
“We did something wrong,” the Dutch manager said. “As soon as you hurt one person, you’ve done something wrong. But the players didn’t mean anything. That’s not an excuse, but our players are going out always to the schools, to kids, to clubs. We are always there to be a role model for others.
“Such a shame that this happened because nobody meant anything with it. I hope that we go into football now,. There is a Uefa investigation, which is correct because there was a claim in it, and we need to face what’s coming out.
“But let me be clear: there’s no excuses and I hope that we’ve learned from it that you can sing the song your team is embracing, but you have to know your background.”
Ireland are ranked 24th in the world and will make their tournament bow in the spotlight, as they face co-hosts Australia in Sydney on the opening day, 20 July. They beat the Matildas 3-2 in Dublin last year in what Pauw called “a turning point” that instilled “real belief that we can do something and grow”.
“We are just going to live to the full and embrace it,” she said at the draw in Auckland on Saturday. “The more pressure, the better. It’s about a task that you have to execute, it’s not about how many people are in the stands. The bigger the stage, the better, because this is what we dreamed for.”
The women’s game has grown exponentially in Ireland since 2017, when the national team went on strike after accusing the FAI of failing to provide adequate support, including being forced to get changed in public toilets on the way to matches and sharing tracksuits with youth-team squads. After mediation, they were granted improved earnings and resources.
“It was a turning point,” Pauw said. “But it’s not only the players who demanded it and stood their ground, the FAI has responded in a way that no other associations have ever done. We have the best facilities, the same hotels as the men have, we travel in the charter [flight].
“We had earlier equal pay than many countries including the Netherlands, who are only are getting it now and they’re  European champions and World Cup finalists.
“It’s turned good with the force of so many people. Not only the squad and the staff, but also the management and the press and the whole support of the nation. That togetherness is the strength of this team. It’s not any more us against others, but it’s all together and everybody pushes us to higher heights.”