With just over three months to kick-off, Niamh O’Regan discusses how the Women’s Rugby World Cup is a massive chance for the IRFU to support the game.
AUGUST 9th 2017, the kick off for the Women’s Rugby World Cup (WRWC) takes place in the UCD Bowl at 2pm. The final whistle is set to be blown at approximately 9.25pm in the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast, a little over two weeks later. The World Cup brings with it opportunities, or at least a particular pressure to create opportunities.
The first Women’s Rugby World Cup was held in 1991, only four years after the inaugural men’s counterpart, despite a much shorter history. While the men’s game was professionalised in 1995, women’s rugby have yet to see the same across the board.
In Ireland, women’s rugby is not professional. The women who line out for their country are not compensated for their efforts. Like their sporting comrades in the GAA, there’s a 5am start for morning training, a full day of work, and back training again in the evening. There has been a slower movement towards professionalisation across all women’s sports.
It is not to say that the Ireland women did not perform in this year’s Six Nations, but England dominated
Speaking to the University Observer, Leah Hayden, UCD Women’s Rugby captain, explained that in the last World Cup – held in France back in 2014 — Irish women were not compensated for their loss of earnings. Including training camp before the World Cup, time spent over there before and during the tournament can amount to six weeks, which is a month-and-a-half of earning gone without a trace.
Perhaps hosting the World Cup will be an excellent opportunity for the IRFU to at least begin to compensate women for loss of earnings in some capacity. These women are currently only playing for the passion for the game and the pride of representing their country. While passion is probably the most important thing in the survival of a sport, investment is crucial to keep a game alive, and the amateur status is not shared across all rugby unions.
Last summer it was announced that England women would be awarded professional contracts for the 2016/17 season, with the Sevens players having been awarded contracts the year previously. While money isn’t everything, the difference shows.
It is not to say that the Ireland women did not perform in this year’s Six Nations, but England dominated. The fact that England women could dedicate all day, every day training and have enough time to recover, definitely showed through in their performance. Both Ireland and England were up for a Grand Slam this year and while Ireland put up a good fight in the final game, the heightened skill and intensity of England allowed them to plough through the last quarter.
In the last World Cup… Irish women were not compensated for their loss of earnings.
This investment in players and player development not only leads to increased skills and success for the team, but success acts as its own tool of recruitment. Hayden believes that there has definitely been an increase in women’s rugby recruitment in UCD this year, quite likely off the back of the World Cup and the fact that UCD are hosting some of the matches. Hayden herself only began playing rugby when she started university, and finds that a lot of women join when they got to college because it is something new, something they haven’t tried before.
By contrast, a lot of those playing for men’s university teams, will have played rugby for some of secondary school at least. The WRWC offers a good opportunity to encourage more girls to get involved at a younger age, and ensure a constant consistent line of recruitment, so that skills can be taught and honed from an early age.
This level of constant recruitment becomes a lot easier with high levels of coverage. However, women’s sport not gaining the same traction of the men’s is nothing new.
Constant recruitment becomes a lot easier with high levels of coverage
Until 2013, women’s rugby had not featured on the national broadcaster, while the matches of the Munster and Leinster Senior Cups have been televised consistently since 2005. Following the UCD Colours match on the 7th of April, the Irish Times covered the results of the men’s match which was won by UCD, but neglected to mention the women even played a match, not to mention that in winning, UCD women had now won two years in a row. The following for the women’s team isn’t as big as the men’s, but the following is not likely to increase with a lack of exposure.
The Irish Women beat the Black Ferns — the New Zealand’s women team — in the last World Cup, but there were no front pages dedicated to Ireland’s first win over New Zealand. While there has definitely been an increase in coverage of Women’s Rugby since the launch of the World Cup last September, it is not at all on a level field. Eir has bought the rights to show all the games from the tournament although RTÉ will show all of Ireland’s games too. It is up to pubs and people across the country to tune in and support their national side.
There is so much potential with this World Cup to expand the game of rugby and its player base. There is an opportunity for the IRFU to further certify their commitment to investment in women’s rugby as a whole and to give the women what they deserve: compensation and coverage.