Equal Treatment For Equal Achievements?
Next week, the Women’s Rugby World Cup starts in Dublin as the defending champions England face Spain. There has been little to no advertising for it in the UK compared to the male version of the competition despite the quality of women’s rugby constantly improving. This year’s competition promises to be every bit as compelling as the 2015 Men’s Rugby World Cup if some of the games from the recent Women’s Six Nations is anything to go by. Far from being a competition in which the winner is obvious, there should be a real battle for the trophy.
One of these potential winners is England. The Red Roses had a fantastic Six Nations, winning all of their matches comfortably. They demolished both Scotland and Wales, running try after try past them and winning by 64 and 63 points to nil respectively. Consequently, any English fan can look forward to a much more rewarding World Cup than the men provided on home soil two years ago.
Yet, a shadow hangs over the England women in the lead up to this competition. Although they were awarded full time professional contracts in 2014 after the previous World Cup, those contracts will not renewed after the upcoming competition. The Rugby Football Union says that those on XVs contracts have always known that this was the case, but it still doesn’t seem to be fair. Why should the women’s game be seen as cyclical, moving between XVs and sevens, when the men’s game does not? Surely the RFU, one of the richest unions in the world can afford to support two separate women’s teams?
The row over this announcement has not gone away, despite the news breaking several weeks ago. MPs and former players have weighed in. Maggie Alphonsi, former player and World Champion, has been vocal about her disappointment and how this is a step back for the women’s game. Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi reckons that it would only cost the RFU 0.252 per cent of their annual budget to keep both teams going. If this is true, and as I cannot find accurate figures for how much these contracts are worth I am unable to check it, then this decision by the RFU is outrageous. How are these women supposed to remain at the top of their games if they do not have job security?
There is quite a bit of money in playing internationally for your country if you’re a man. For women, this rarely seems to be the case. Who can forget the row over the payment of the USA women's soccer team, who despite being World Cup champions in the women’s game who were paid less than the men’s team? If we want to encourage young girls to play sports and then retain talented individuals within the sporting world as adults, then we need to start paying them more. We need to start providing better job security. A future that seems just as promising as a more traditional career. One that doesn't promise long hours balancing professional sport training sessions and part time jobs.
In many ways, women’s sport has come on leaps and bounds. The Women’s Euros has had significantly more coverage this time around than it ever has before, and England’s matches have been shown on a terrestrial channel so anyone can watch. The Women’s Cricket World Cup enjoyed a serious advertising push in the UK where it was hosted, which led to record audiences both in stadiums and on television. The final between India and England was the most watched women’s cricket final ever. The England female cricket team have recently had their central contracts extended to last for two years instead of one. The England women’s football team have had central contracts for years and the money pumped into the sport has increased year on year. All of this makes the decision by the RFU even more disappointing.
The argument that rugby has different forms and that there is a need to focus on one over another is also made ridiculous by cricket. A sport regularly played in three different formats, the central contracts cover players who play a variety of forms or only one. Several of the England XV could play in the sevens competition and vice versa if funding really is an issue. But what I fear is the problem is that there simply is not enough interest at the top in women’s rugby. Although audiences for the sport are growing, in part because the standard of the matches are improving and because watching the men play internationally is now beyond many people’s pockets, the advertising and commercial support is not matching up. If the RFU do not relent on their decision it is a step back for women’s rugby and women who play sport in general.