Formed 2004 ... Herts 7s U14 Runners-up 2005 ... North Herts U14 team, Herts Youth Games 2005 runners-up (coached by Letchworth)... Herts Superteams U14 Runners-up 2005 ... Herts SuperTeams "Fairplay" winners 2006 ... Rochford 10s U17 Champions 2006 ... East Midlands 10s U17 Runners-up 2007 ... East Midlands 10s U17 "Fairplay" winners 2007 ... National 10s U17 5th place and "Fairplay" winners 2007 ... Herts 7s U17 Plate runners-up 2007 ... National 7s U17 Plate winners 2007 ... RFU "President's XV" Award winners 2007 ... Herts Superteams winners 2007 ... Midlands 10s U18 Runners-up 2008 ... National 10s U18 4th place 2008 ... North Herts U11 team, Herts Youth Games 2008 runners-up (coached by Letchworth girls) ... London and SE 7s U18 Plate runners-up 2008 ... Herts 7s U18s runners-up 2008 ... National 7s U18s quarter-finalists 2008 ... Gloucester City 10s U18 Bowl runner-up (6th) 2009 ... Worthing 10s U18 Plate runner-up 2009 ... National 7s U18 Plate winners 2009... Worthing 10s U15 Plate winners 2010... Worthing 10s U18 Shield winners 2010... Herts 7s U15 and U18 Bowl runners-up 2010... National 7s U18 Plate runners-up 2010...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rugby and the Olympics? Think oil and water...

The world's greatest sporting spectacle begins in less than two weeks time. The Olympic Games will see a significant proportion of the world's population, at least those with access to TV, spending two weeks caring passionately about the outcome of sports they would not normally cross the street to watch, even if they knew they existed at all. Sport where home athletes do well can see explosions in popularity as children in particular take their new heroes to their hearts, and seek to emulate them.

And Rugby Union, a sport with an Olympic history a quarter of a century long and a sport whose ideals (on paper at least) match those of the Olympic movement closer than practically any other, will again not be at the party. In fact its not been there since 1924, and won't be there in 2012 either (despite there being two "vacancies" following the ejection of baseball and softball from the 2012 games).

Those of us involved in the game are repeatedly told that its only a matter of time. The success of Sevens at the Commonwealth Games means that the IOC (who run the Olympics) are desperate to get rugby back into the Games. Rugby's failure to get into 2012 was an aberration, based on protest votes connected with softball's rejection/a botched vote/the need for some minor tweaks here and there (delete as applicable). Its inevitable. Watch this space.

Well, while researching various aspects of the women's game and the barriers that are in the way of its expansion, one thing I have found as is that this is a complete fiction. As things stand there is practically no chance that rugby will get into the Olympics in my lifetime or, I dare say, yours. At least not without quite radical change.

The IOC voted on sports to replace softball and baseball in 2005. From the reaction of rugby's authorities you'd think the game missed out by a hair's breadth - the technicality of not getting a two thirds vote. Unfortunately when you look into it you find that rugby did not finish top at all. It wasn't even in the top two. In fact rugby finished behind karate and squash in the overall voting process, and roller skating gained more votes than rugby in the first round of voting!

Why? Well there are lots of reasons and a fascinating report published at the weekend goes into them in some detail, but the Big One is clearly the position of the women's game.

The impression often given by the press is that the IOC is a cynical, money grabbing, corrupt fiefdom run by an unelected group of self-seeking nobodies who use the games to finance a continual globe-trotting junket. Well, that makes grat hadlines and there may have been elements of truth in that in a very few cases, but in fact the IOC remains a remarkably and overwhelmingly very idealistic organisation, and one of its major preoccupations is equality. The promotion of women in sport is central to the Olympic movement, and has been for maybe 50 years now - or more. Though some existing sports in the Olympics remain male only (boxing, for instance), they are few - and decreasing (football now has men's and women's events) and no sport joining the Olympic Games since... well, the war? ... has been male only, or even predominantly so.

And rugby was pitching for Rugby Sevens to join the party, based on the success of a male-only tournament in Manchester, a couple of male-only world cups, and a popular worldwide but also male-only sevens "tour". Frankly given that its amazing that rugby got onto the ballot, let alone managed to squeeze past roller skating amongst the minnows and also-rans in the second round...

Perhaps as a result of this we now have a few, frankly, cosmetic attempts to up the position of women's rugby. Surprise, surprise shortly after 2005 it was announced there will be a women's event at the Rugby Sevens world cup next year (not the main 15s world cup, you note - an event due to take place in less than two years but which the IRB have still not bothered to announce a venue for). Even then "at" is an interesting word. There are no details yet but when you look into it you find that the commitment is that the women's event will be "in the same city", not necessarily at the main stadium. This could mean miles away - Dubai isn't a small place.

And if you doubt that and think I exaggerate then ask yourself where the recent Women's Home Nations Sevens took place in Edinburgh when that was supposed to be played as a "companion" to Scotland's round in the IRB Sevens Tour? In the main stadium? No - on some training pitches outside. And if you think that this was due to there being no time for the games to be played at Murryfield itself then that is also not true - from what one hears many of the women's games were being played when there were actually gaps in the main schedule. So if you were looking forward to watching live TV coverage of the women's Sevens world cup then I suggest you come up with a back-up plan - you'll probably need it.

Moreover the commitment of individual IRB members to even this "advancement" of the women's game is not exactly outstanding. Of the eight "founder members" who - to all intents and purpose - run the world game two declined to even enter their women's teams in the world cup qualifiers! Can you imagine that happening in men's rugby?

The Scots in particular pulled out of the European qualifying tournament at the last minute for the most pathetic - and blatantly sexist - of reasons. Basically the SRU chose to fund a men's tour of Argentina in preference to the women's sevens team visiting Germany for the qualifiers because "the Scotland Men’s team is one of the primary commercial assets of the SRU and investment is therefore substantially higher".

Translated from PR Speak into English this means that as women can - by definition - never contribute to the SRU's "primary commercial asset" they will never be other than second class citizens in Scottish rugby and last in line when the money is handed out. To say this is incompatible with Olympic ideals is to underplay it - to very idea that commercial concerns should come ahead of even a pretence at equality is the complete reverse of the IOC's basic beliefs. In fact when you look at it in detail its even worse than that - the visit to Argentina was a non-competitive series of friendlies the result of which I'd challenge any other than the most dedicated follower to even remember, while the women's Sevens was the first stage in a world championship!!

But at least Scotland went through the process of making a decision - Ireland never entered in the first place. Perhaps the cost was too high? After all the Brazilian and Czech and Isreali and Niue Island RFUs (all of whom did enter the event) are sooooo much better funded than the SRU and IRU!

And not its not just participants, its officials too. Over 25 years ago the IOC set a target for themselves and the Olympic sports saying that by 2005 sports should have set a target for 20% of positions on governing bodies being held by women. So, let's take a look at the progress towards this target made by the IRB executive...
Hmmmmm..... I can see the IOC being very impressed by that!

There is more - much more - that punctures the balloon suggesting that rugby is a world sport to rival only football, but as these are not all women's rugby related I refer you to the report on Total Flanker and the full report itself. All I will do is conclude this with the observation that those involved in women's rugby are invariably too easily pleased with the scrapings that the game allow to fall from the table. The IOC - and governmental bodies like Sport England - provide the women's game with bucket-loads of ammunition to aim at those in authority. Even the IRB have policy statements that national unions are supposed to follow, while the RFU has made similar commitments that CB's wilfully ignore.

Let's make these words into actions. And yes it'll upset the suits currently in power, and yes they will complain, and yes they'll threaten all kinds of dire things, and yes you'll be crossed off a few Christmas card lists - but unless the game fights its own corner then it will remain where it is.

Those that run rugby - at all levels - have demonstrated that they will give the girls' and women's game as little as they can get away with. To quote George Bernard Shaw (but, I have to admit, via a track on Scooter's latest album)...

"Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get."

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