Nations can no longer get away with failing women in rugby


Recently, a damning review was released regarding the management of and the culture within the Black Ferns team.

One thing to note from the off, is that this behavior and treatment is not exclusive to one team, it runs rife in all teams, in all sports, at all levels. Although the report was jaw droppingly shocking to many people, it wasn’t to me. We have seen it before, and we will no doubt see it again.

The publication of the New Zealand Rugby review now makes it the third report to have found issues with how women are being managed in elite rugby environments, following on from the publication of the IRFU and Canadian culture reports.

The Black Fern’s review was initiated as a result of Te Kura’s emotive Instagram post back in December last year, in which she bravely and boldly spoke up about the treatment she had received throughout her time with the team. She put her head above the parapet to call out management, namely now former head coach Glenn Moore, to ensure something was done.

The exact same thing can be seen over in Ireland with Cliodhna Moloney, who boldly took to social media to criticize Ireland’s previous director of women’s rugby, Anthony Eddy, after he refused to acknowledge any issues with the Irish team, and even went as far as to suggest the inability to qualify for the World Cup lay solely at the players feet. Interestingly, Moloney, who plays week in week out in the English domestic league for Wasps Women, was not included in this year’s Six Nation’s set up.

It’s no wonder players are nervous to speak up about mistreatment. The ultimate consequence for being a whistle blower is to be dispelled from international rugby, and apparently for some that’s a stark reality.

Another interesting similarity between both reports, is that the mistreatment of players was only seemingly taken seriously when the teams suffered on pitch performance. Which got me thinking, how many other players in international set up are going through the same thing, but are too scared to speak up?

Both Anthony Eddy and Glenn Moore have now left both international set ups, but you would be naïve to assume issues with management disappear with the manager. It’s not enough to acknowledge the issues, you must put a proactive plan in place to ensure they do not happen again. The unions must work hard to do what they should have done in the first place and protect these players, and the future of the game.

Let’s be clear here, these issues stem far beyond a discrepancy in management style. The women in these teams have been mistreated, undervalued and disrespected for too long now. It would be a serious mistake to brush over these issues which include but are not limited to racism, sexism, and favouritism.

However, the published reports only include recommendations at this stage. Some would argue that the public airing of dirty laundry would be enough to insight real change, but I personally don’t agree.

The reports were effectively handed back to the unions with strong recommendations, but no direct accountability. There is concern that these findings will be swept under the rug and branded as yet another screw up in the women’s rugby world.

If you are thinking the blatant disrespect towards women in sport is limited to rugby, you are wrong. Just last week Northern Ireland Football manager Kenny Shiel came out in a press conference to say the team conceded a goal due to the women being “more emotional than men”, which quite frankly is ridiculous.

The only good thing to come out of this situation was Ian Wright’s tweet, if you’re looking for an example of a good male ally, here you go:

Despite the recent apparent leaps forward in the women’s game with sell-out crowds and contracts, we still have a long way to go. As the classic phrase goes “You can’t run before you can walk”, and it seems like we are doing exactly that.

With the news that Italy have introduced semi-professional contracts, all eyes turn to Ireland and Scotland, as the last two of the Six Nations to have some form of contractual agreement among players.

After hearing the news, players in the Irish set up were told “Talks are happening, contracts are coming”, but before doing so we need to ensure we have a constructive and successful international elite level environment, and it’s not currently clear just how this can be achieved.

Both the IRFU’s and NZR’s dirty washing have been hung out to dry for all to see. So, what happens next?

For the Black Fern’s, the pressure doesn’t get much higher. The team are just months away from hosting and participating in the World Cup. Coming off the back of a stark losing streak in the Autumn Internationals, it’s a big ask to turn the team around, but as former world champions, you would hope they stand a good chance, should the union step up and step in to support the team.

Sensitive steps forward have been taken, with NZR announcing a brand-new coaching staff team, which includes several notable appointments, including Whitney Hansen, who comes from the World Cup Coaching Internship program aimed at improving the lack of female representation at high-performance coaching levels.

For Ireland, the IRFU have published an implementation plan and have committed to reviewing findings every six months. Unlike the Black Ferns, the Irish squad are not involved in the World Cup but do still have two rounds of the Tiktok Six Nations to get through, without a core squad of seven players who will be leaving camp this week.

Like most things, time will tell what happens with these recommendations, and if any change is to come from them.

One thing is for certain though, and that is that this treatment doesn’t stop here – it runs rife at all levels of the sport and isn’t exclusive to the teams in these reports.

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