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Monday, February 13, 2012

9,000 - promoting women's rugby the French way

"Malice" = Marie Alice Yahe, French captain
After a weekend of women's international sevens and Six Nations one fact - one number - stood out from everything else.


That was the reported size of the crowd in Pau for France's game against Ireland - to which might be added "at least" as the Irish captain suggested a figure closer to 11,000 might have been closer.

Put it another way - its probably the biggest crowd ever for women's rugby, other than that for the World Cup Final in 2010. Yet, oddly enough, it has not attracted that much comment in France.

Why? Possibly because crowds in France - while not normally this big - are invariably four, five or six thousand. Italian crowds (when games are not moved at the last moment) are often only slightly smaller.

In the UK and Ireland? Well, Lasswade were delighted to have 1,000 for England v Scotland last weekend, while Ashbourne in Ireland would have been the usual friends and family of the Irish team. Crosskeys was probably less than packed for Wales v Scotland, and Esher probably won't have that many more than Lasswade when Ireland visits next month.

What is it that is different about France? A number of things:
  • Women's internationals in France move around. It's part of an FFR policy to bring les bleus to everyone, so that over a three or four year period everyone in France will have had an international - U20, women's - near enough to attend.
  • In France it is an honour to host a game
  • Because every region has its international, every region wants to do it better than every other region. They got 4,000 - we'll get 5,000!
  • As a result the games are not just rugby matches, or even sporting events. They are Occasions - opportunities to demonstrate regional pride, to show themselves off to the nation (and beyond). Everyone is involved - not just the host club and union, but local schools, councils - everyone. You would have to have been living under a rock in Pau this weekend (or Riom last week) not to know the game was on.
In the UK & Ireland, on the other hand...
  • Games rarely move. England hardly ever venture beyond the M25. Ireland always play at Ashbourne.  Wales invariably play in South East Wales. Most Scots games are at one of a handful of grounds, all quite near to each other.
  • The impression you get is that it seems to be hard to get a club to host a game "please, please will you host our women's international".
  • Games pass by almost unnoticed. If there is any promotional effort undertaken its done only by the host club, with maybe some help from the Union. So only the local rugby people are reached - if that. Schools, colleges, councils, local media - no involvement. At all.
Its a difference in regional and national culture, but its also its a difference in attitude. France and Italy want to sell the game, create an occasion and get the crowds - in the UK and Ireland whether anyone turns up and watches is incidental - because, perhaps, they do not think of women's rugby as a spectator sport - so the convenience of players and administrators is all that matters.

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