Rugby rumours are only about men

Kathryn Dane clears the ball out from a ruck against Scotland. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

It is time women enter the conversations

Rugby rumours are a dime a dozen these days, with the most frequent rumours surrounding the expansion of competitions like the 6 Nations in Europe and the Rugby Championship in the Southern Hemisphere. However, these rumours do not touch on how these expansions could affect the women’s game.

The most recent of these expansion rumours involves South Africa joining the 6 Nations after 2023, but none of the rumours even mention that South Africa has a national women’s team that could be added to the Women’s 6 Nations. The rumours were dismissed by SANZAAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina Rugby) boss Andy Marinos on Wednesday 26 February, however the exclusion of women’s rugby from this conversation is just the latest example of why movements like 20×20 are still vital to development of rugby and sport as a whole.

Can’t see, Can’t be

The 20×20 movement started in October 2018, with the goal of increasing the participation in, and media coverage of, women’s sport by 20pc by the end of 2020, and has gained a lot of momentum on social media since its beginning.

“20×20 is a campaign that is about creating a cultural shift in our perception of girls and women in Sport,” said Enya Hand, a representative of 20×20. Hand explained that there are five chapters of the movement which will take place throughout the campaign: Perception, Role Models, Skills, Participation and Future.

The principle that if a young girl cannot see how far they can go with sport they will not believe that they can make it far in sport, is central to 20×20’s drive for better visibility, which launched the hashtag #CantSeeCantBe. This hashtag is present across all of 20×20’s media platforms, which is the main focus of the campaign at this point.

“I think there’s great momentum around the campaign and great hype on social media but meeting the targets and goals is a funny one,” said Emma Duffy, a journalist with The 42 who has written a number of articles on the Women’s 6 Nations. “A lot of it, I feel, may be lip service and maybe even tokenism; yes, you can tweet #20×20 #CantSeeCantBee but if you’re not getting out and going to games etc, that’s no good.”

Duffy is not the only one to support the campaign, but question its effectiveness outside of social media.

“I’ve seen the clubs are doing a good job of pushing it on their social media but at the end of the day it’s a programme that is trying to improve visibility and improve involvement in women’s sport,” said Joe Walsh, Dublin City University Ladies Rugby Club’s assistant coach. “Especially as someone who is involved in the game … you have to know what it is about so that you can be involved in it.”

“I definitely know what [20×20] is and I definitely know why they are doing it but how they are going to [increase representation and participation] and what they want us to do is probably something that I should be more aware of,” added Walsh.

However, “there has been a general shift and it has encouraged people to think about the unconscious bias they may have towards men’s sport,” said Duffy.

There has also been an impact on the focus given to the national women’s side by the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU). “I think Ireland rugby has made an improvement in terms of the standards of the coaching for example and the standard of the facilities,” said Kathryn Dane, Ireland international scrum half.

“I think with an improvement in the grassroots of Irish rugby, in particular with more underage teams coming through… it’s having a massive impact and adding more value to our national women’s side,” added Dane.

Duffy agrees, and believes that more needs to be done. “Attendance-wise, we have seen records set at national team games and All-Ireland finals etc, but what about the 364 other days of the year? What about your local team down at the park on a Sunday morning?”

“I think a lot of it comes down to grassroots,” said Duffy. “Little things like websites not being updated with fixtures and results, no live scores etc on social media. It’s a small area where there could be improvement that would go a hell of a long way.”

Exactly how successful the 20×20 campaign has been in Ireland will only be revealed in October 2020, according to Hand, however if the campaign will be a deemed a success, women should be involved in the speculation and rumours surrounding competition expansions .

Scotland making a long and powerful run against Ireland. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

Conversations and visibility

The rumours of South Africa joining the 6 Nations broke in the beginning of February, and yet, at the end of February, international players and South African supporters have barely heard of a national South African Women’s rugby team, let alone whether or not they would potentially join their male counterparts in the European tournament.

“I don’t think I would have heard of the female Springboks before,” said Dane. “I am aware that maybe Scotland would have taken a trip to tour the Springboks maybe last year but other than that no… whereas you can’t get away from the fact of the Springbok men winning the World Cup.”

The fact that South Africa has a women’s interprovincial rugby competition is difficult to find using search engines and hardly ever covered by media in South Africa. This lack of information surrounding women’s rugby is, by SA Rugby’s own admission, influenced by the lack of a user-friendly archive on the SA Rugby website.

“Our website doesn’t seem to store all the women’s rugby articles in a nice user-friendly way,” said Zeena Isaacs-van Tonder, a representative from SA Rugby’s women’s teams. “But if you have time on your hands you would probably find last year’s Women’s Interprovincial Competition match previews and reports under the archive on our website.”

This massive divide between the coverage of the men and women in a country as rugby-focused as South Africa proves that movements like 20×20 need to be driven worldwide, just as competitions like the Women’s 6 Nations must continue to grow the global women’s game.

Isaacs-van Tonder could not “comment on speculation” regarding the talks of SA joining the 6 Nations. The 6 Nations was approached for comment, but failed to respond by deadline.

Irish rugby in the attack against Scotland. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green
Irish rugby on the attack against Scotland. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green
Irish Rugby on the attack against Scotland. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green
Irish Rugby on the attack against Scotland. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green