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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Rugby still has a long way to go

This story comes from New Zealand but it could have happened anywhere - and probably does. Its almost routine - except in this case (also available in video) the victims did not just roll over and accept it. They complained, and moreover complained to the local paper, who in turn passed it on so that it made the national news, so that the club were forced to defend themselves - and thus illustrate perfectly the problems women's rugby faces.

Canterbury are one of the leading sides in New Zealand women's rugby, and a part of the larger Canterbury club that you will see on TV from time to time. Their home ground is the same Rugby Park... or was until they were suddenly turfed out to play all their games on a nearby public park. Apparently the ground was being overused and needed to be rested.

Except that on the very day the women were given their marching orders the club's colts team were given permission to play on the hallowed turf - moreover a friendly fixture, which is, of course, far more important than the women's national league games.

What is interesting is the explanation given by the club's spokesman - Hamish Riach - because he can clearly see nothing wrong in throwing out the women's team while allowing the men's 1st XV... and 2nd XV... and colts... and who know's?... to play on. "Other teams have had to move as well", he says, without actually saying which ones (the Under 12s maybe? Not many others left really!).

Hamish just doesn't get it - and here he is like, I would suggest, 90% of the game's administrators. Clearly, to Hamish his club's adult women's team is of less importance than the men's teenage colts - and he does not see anything wrong in this. The only reason presumably is that the women may be top of the national league, but they do not contribute to development of the men's team - and men's rugby is all that matters. Its very like the Scottish RFU's reason for withdrawing their women's sevens entry for the world cup (because the women's team do not contribute to the their "primary asset" - the men's team). You wonder if there is any aspect of the word "equality" that they understand.

Which is not to say that rugby is uniquely guilty - when professional soccer clubs make savings its invariably the women who are first to be shown the door, for example - but such behaviour tends to be exceptional in most other mainstream sports, whereas in rugby it seems to be the norm. Things like the RFU's Play On campaign material would be seen as massive gaffs anywhere else, but in rugby no-one even seems to understand that it is a problem (they certainly don't see it as important enough to reply to correspondence on the subject).

There is an answer, of course, and that is to do as the Canterbury Women have done. Complain. Make a fuss. Use the media. Embarrass those in charge. Force them to account for their behaviour. Its clear whose side the TV station are on - and if called to account often enough eventually the Hamishes of the game may begin to realise that the world has moved on, and that a club's women's 1st XV is just slightly more important than the boys' colts.

(Thanks to Your Scrumhalf Connection for highlighting this news item)


  1. Anonymous2:15 PM

    Its an interesting point - however I'd like to look at the word equality as in my view in cuts both ways.

    Are there any womens teams that have contributed equally to the purchase of any of their clubs playing facilities, the club house, indeed any of the basic infrastructure? (and grants at competitive rates because they are made in the name of the women's section don't count).

    I appreciate that NOW most do - but we are talking at most the last twenty years.

    Even then, very few women's sections make a significant dent in the running costs of the club, most aim for not costing the club anything and many to their credit participate in fund raising etc - but whether we like it or not, none of us could stand up on our own.

    If you want to understand the attitude of many administrators, these basic facts can help steer you.

    It might not be politically or morally correct - but if you want to apply equality in its purest form, we are no where near equal and I doubt we will be.

  2. I think I'll reply to this on the main blog.


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