Stella Mills: Listen to the players who are involved in the game, don’t speak on behalf of them - Ruck

Stella Mills: Listen to the players who are involved in the game, don’t speak on behalf of them

This year we have seen huge progress in the women’s game, from a record-breaking crowd in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations to peak TV audiences at the Allianz Premier 15’s final, the game seems to be growing at a startling rate. 

However, if you start to look below the surface, the fragility of the women’s game, and particularly the treatment of players within it, is clear to see.  

Last week, it was revealed that the organisation supposedly responsible for supporting and protecting the collective interests of players in Scotland, Rugby Players Scotland, had misrepresented views of the entire women’s team in an interview with The Offside Line

Within the interview, which at the time of writing remains unchanged, Bill Mitchell, the Chief Executive of RPS claimed to have been speaking on behalf of the women’s squad. He goes onto explain that the players are supportive of Scottish Rugby’s version of events regarding the tragic passing of Siobhan Cattigan, hinting that they sided with the union as opposed to the family’s version of events. 

A strong portion, if not all members of the Scotland squad, including captain Rachel Malcolm, Jade Konkel, Sarah Bonar and Chloe Rollie came out with the below statement on social media.

As a squad we were never aware of this RPS article being published or the statements attributed to the team in this article. We are grieving our friend and teammate; our thoughts are with Siobhan’s family.”

First and foremost, for a team to come together and say this takes huge courage. It cannot and should not be taken lightly that players have stepped up and issued this statement across social media. You don’t have to look to far to understand how risky this could be for players, as it’s not uncommon for unions to mysteriously oust certain individuals from training set ups on account of sentiments shared across social media.  

Second, this shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I don’t feel its right for me to attempt to reduce Siobhan’s story into one paragraph, so would urge those wanting to educate themselves to read this article from David Walsh in the Times which provides insight into the situation. 

In total, 29 players spoke out regarding the interview. The fact that players were never aware of the statements which had been attributed to them is very worrying. This goes far beyond someone mistakenly mentioning something in an interview, Mitchell clearly conveys with confidence that he had received this information from the players directly. Worse still, after practically the whole squad condemned the article publicly on social media, the outlet didn’t issue an apology, or amend the piece. Instead, a tiny paragraph was added to bottom, not even the top, of the article with the player’s statement in it. 

It seems that the Scottish squad are not the only ones taking matters into their own hands after not being listened too. Previous to this, we saw players at DMP Sharks release a heart wrenching letter asking the wider rugby community for support, as the players had been told directly by the club that the team was no longer financially viable and would be pulled from the Allianz Premier 15’s if funding could not be sourced.

Within various posts on social media, which soon circulated well around the rugby community and began gathering donations, players conveyed that they had 72 hours to raise £50,000. Quite the challenge. With a small extension of time, and with various logistical meetings with the RFU, the players succeeded in raising the money and earned another year in the AP15’s. 

The fact that an elite level team had to crowdfund its way into the league is wrong, the future of the team shouldn’t have to rest on the players shoulders. We shouldn’t be having to beg people to donate to a crowdfunding page to ensure the viability of the team.  

With the current uncertainty of Worcester Warriors and Wasps hanging in the balance, it might not be long before we see women’s sides having to follow the footsteps of DMP. 

This is not an exclusive problem that occurs at the elite level either, its well-known at the grassroots level women’s teams are often the last priority for many clubs. From women’s captains being ignored in committee meetings, to decisions being made on their behalf with no consultation, it isn’t a rarity for women’s teams to be brushed over and ignored. 

The fact of the matter is that unfortunately, men’s sport is the default here. It shouldn’t be, but it is. If I was speaking to someone who didn’t know that I covered the women’s game and mentioned I would be watching Saracens VS Exeter Chiefs, I guarantee they would assume I was going to a Gallagher Premiership match. I would actually put good money on it. 

Sometimes in the women’s game it feels like players are walking on a tightrope, carefully balancing their needs with that of those in charge. If we have learnt anything from the past few months, it’s that players are not afraid to use their platforms to speak for themselves and they certainly don’t need anyone to speak for them.

If you take anything away from reading my column, it should be this: 

Listen to the players who are involved in the game, don’t speak on behalf of them, and if you are going to do that, at least make sure what you are saying isn’t completely full of it.