Stella Mills: Equal opportunity - The key to growing women’s rugby - Ruck

Stella Mills: Equal opportunity – The key to growing women’s rugby

BY STELLA MILLS

As we head into possibly the biggest period of growth for women’s rugby with the TikTok Women’s Six Nations kicking off, I wanted to broach the topic of funding in the women’s game. 

          “When women’s rugby brings in the same revenue as men’s you can have equal pay”

I’ve seen this line be thrown around as an excuse for a lack of funding, contracts, and more recently prize money. It’s an age-old excuse that needs to be addressed. 

First of all, let’s get one thing straight women don’t want to be paid the same amount as the men, it would be ludicrous to offer the same salaries and bonuses right now, and probably bankrupt the women’s game. Women just want to be paid full stop. 

Secondly, how can we bring in the same revenue if we aren’t getting the same opportunities? The gap that currently exists between men’s and women’s rugby in terms of revenue isn’t going to be closed overnight, but it’s also not going to be closed without some serious investment from both brands and unions involved in growing the game. 

For reference, England are still the only fully professional side in the Tik Tok Women’s Six Nations. The Red Roses are, not coincidently, considered front runners to walk away with a Grand Slam win in this year’s tournament and after the strong performance this weekend, its hard to see past that.  

Unions are slowly starting to follow in the footsteps of England and invest in teams. It’s too soon to see the full effects of the Welsh contracts being put into play, but obviously something has changed in that camp, as an electrifying performance at the RDS this weekend saw Wales walk away with a win. 

Added to that, in the opening round we saw record breaking crowds, with the RDS seeing 6113 fans enjoying a close game on a sunny day in Dublin. The phrase “Build it and they will come” springs to mind here. 

However, to ensure this growth is sustained, we need to make sure players have everything they need to thrive in this game, which starts with management. 

We should be ensuring players have access to the best possible coaching team’s available, but we should also be doing everything in our power to ensure these coaches are retained within teams. A problem which has been prevalent in the women’s game. 

Women should also have access to the best possible physio’s and strength and conditioning staff, but the unfortunate reality for many teams, from grassroots to the elite level, is that they are still given inexperienced trainees, or individuals who are using the game as a steppingstone to the men’s. 

Comparing growth of the men’s game to the women’s is dangerous. Men’s sport in general has had at least a 100 year head start on women’s. You cannot put women in the same kit, same stadium and on the same broadcasting channels as men and expect instant success. We must put in the work to build engaged audiences and fans, to make household names out of players and to make this sport visible to the masses.  

Ruck spoke exclusively to Florence Williams, Founder of The Perception Agency, who said: 

“Women’s sport has been under grown, underdeveloped and under invested in for so many years, to compare the two would be like comparing apples to oranges.”

She continued: 

“Sport has literally been built by men, for men, and It’s about time that changed.”

“We as athletes are not asking to be paid the same as men, we are asking to be paid something.”

This isn’t just a problem at the elite level either, I recently went down Rosslyn Park Seven’s festival in London and was blown away by the skill of some of the younger boy’s teams, their skill set just didn’t seem to match their age level. 

I got talking to one state school team who explained its often the private schools who do well in things like this because players are treated like mini professional athletes. They are given allocated time outside of study to train, rest, rehab and even given their own nutritionist in some cases. 

Which only proves the point I am making here, if you set a team up to succeed, and give them every possible opportunity to do so, they will. If you give a team mediocre facilities, support, and investment then they won’t, its simple. 

Right now, the latter option is what we are seeing, when it should be the former. 

Already, we have seen unprecedented coverage of the women’s game, with the TikTok title sponsorship seemingly grabbing the interest of notable publications such as the Sun who published a full eight page pull out on the sport, something which years ago would have been impossible. 

TikTok is also weighing in heavy as a new platform to push the game out to fresh audiences. For example, each nation is required to facilitate a pre match live at each home game, as the IRFU did this weekend.

This tournament has already got off to a strong start, both on and off field. It really does feel like this is a new era for the women’s game, I just hope that this increased interest sparks some real investment decisions from brands and unions. 

We have a busy few weeks coming up in the sport, with the Tiktok Women’s Six Nations, Allianz Premiership Cup and the Women’s Army V Navy match being played at Twickenham for the first time.  

Years of building has got us to this stage, so it will be interesting to see how the next few weeks’ play out, and which brands put their heads above the rest to invest in the women’s game. Time will tell. 


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