Carolyn Hitt: contract announcement could finally turn desperation into hope for Welsh women’s rugby – Carolyn Hitt
WRU called its decision to offer players its first contracts this week “historic.” Not before the hour. This has been the attitude of the dinosaurs towards women’s rugby in Wales for so long, the most apt adjective has been prehistoric.
Some old keyboard woolly mammoths still can’t cope with this first step in putting Wales up against the nations that have recognized the importance of women’s football for decades.
I was very concerned for the welfare of this poor guy in response to the announcement of the contracts. He seems genuinely frightened by the prospect of progress in women’s sports.
“I don’t want women in men’s football, it’s that simple. I haven’t played rugby with women, I haven’t supported the game with women and I don’t want to discuss the game with them, “he wrote, adding:” It sounds awful, I know it, but this is my escape. I have no objection to women playing or supporting the game at all. They can watch men’s rugby if they want to. But I’m not interested in listening to women give their thoughts on the game. It ruins me. There is a huge gap between men’s rugby and women’s rugby where the sport would be mixed. Good luck ladies, but please leave us the guys alone.
Perhaps like the character played by Mike Bubbins in his new BBC Wales sitcom last night, this man has been frozen in time since the 1970s and has kicked and screamed into 21st century Wales to express his old opinions.
But even in the 1970s, those views would have been outdated. Welsh women have always been involved in what has come to be seen as an all-male pursuit. As the records show, as early as 1884 “a third” of a crowd of 5,000 at Stradey were women, while the 19th century Cardiff Arms Park booth was renovated for “ladies’ convenience.”
When the All Blacks arrived at Rodney Parade in 1905, a stunned Daily Mail scribe reported that: “The average woman in Newport, judging by the expert female critics punctuating Saturday’s game, apparently knows the science of rugby just as much. than any man.
And they weren’t just watching over a century ago, they were playing. There is a stunning photo in the Cardiff Rugby Museum online of what is believed to be the oldest known image of a women’s rugby team – taken on December 15, 1917, before the Cardiff Ladies XV left for the meet their Newport rivals at Arms Park. .
Cardiff full-back that day was 17-year-old Maria Lillian Eley (née Evans). She was recommended as a candidate to be the first woman to enter the World Rugby Hall of Fame and lived to be 106 years old.
Asked the secret to her longevity in an interview with the Penarth Times, she replied, “Rugby,” adding, “We loved it. It was so much fun playing all together on the pitch, but we had to stop when the men came back from the war which was a shame. We had so much fun.
Women’s sport flourished during World War I with teams of munitions workers embracing rugby and football. Swansea had a particularly strong women’s football team and by 1920 the game of round ball had become a huge crowd-pleaser. On Boxing Day that year, 53,000 fans watched Dick Kerr’s Ladies beat rivals St Helen’s Ladies 4-0. The FA feared the women’s game was getting too big for their boots. In 1921, he banned women from playing on Football League pitches – a ban that was in effect until 1969.
I have often wondered how different the world could have been had women’s team sport been allowed to evolve naturally from those war years rather than being crushed – the parity that could have come from normalization. female participation and encouragement of talent with equal opportunities.
Because frankly we are still waiting and more than 100 years later it seems absurd.
There was another reaction online to the announcement of WRU contracts that stuck with me this week.
A young woman calling herself @CymruChloe tweeted: “When I was 11 we were asked in school what we want to be when we are older. I wrote that I wanted to be a professional rugby player and my English teacher laughed at me and said: “But you are a girl, that will not happen”. Today changes that reaction, today means a lot … now when someone else writes that they want to be a rugby player, no matter their gender, because it is an achievable goal.
Chloe’s English teacher reminded me of the main figure in the WRU to whom I was introduced as a young journalist as “the only woman in Wales who writes about rugby”.
“Yes, but can she read a map?” It’s long gone and I have a satellite navigation system, but over 20 years ago it was representative of a particular culture of institutionalized blazerati sexism that struggled with the concept that women would be involved in the national game, not to mention playing it.
And despite all of Wales’ obsession with overcoming the old foe, they were quite happy at the time to see English women’s rugby not only grow stronger, but also give a path to our female talent.
Paula George, for example. In 2002, she became the first woman to make the cover of Rugby World magazine. Intrepid full-back, with 75 caps – 30 as captain – she led England to the Grand Slams and victory over New Zealand. Her story inspired young players across the border as she described her journey to elite sport after a difficult childhood where she overcame family dysfunction and racism in the playing fields.
Paula – or Georgie as she is affectionately known – remains an icon of English rugby… and she is from Kenfig Hill. She could have been a Welsh playing heroine, a household name that prompted Welsh girls a generation ago to take to the pitch.
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But as, she explained in an interview ahead of the 2002 Women’s Rugby World Cup, she “despaired” of the Welsh setup at the time and was embraced by an English women’s rugby culture that took female participation in the game. serious.
This is a desperation recognized almost 20 years later by today’s Welsh players – until recently an all-amateur side on a two-year losing streak, once again missing a head coach.
It’s a desperation that could be seen in the tears of captain Siwan Lillicrap, crumbling in the post-match interview after giving everything in Wales’ 45-0 against Ireland in April .
It was desperation that colored the departure of former skills coach and former Welsh captain Rachel Taylor, who went on to speak of her ‘traumatic’ stint in the role.
It’s a desperation that was visible in the Instagram post of Jasmine Joyce, one of the brightest stars in world rugby per se – not just women’s football – when she wrote about the difficulty of balancing dreams of playing world-class rugby with a full- time job.
And it’s a desperation that fueled a 4,000-signature petition and prompted 123 former female players to write a corusing letter to the WRU stating: “Your systematic dismantling of age and development pathways contributes significantly to football failures. female in Wales today. . The results of the last two Six Nations are a product of the current environment which brings us to a point of crisis that we feared was inevitable. “
No wonder the new WRU rugby director Nigel Walker admitted that the union had not “covered themselves with glory” when it came to women’s football. But they listened. And it was heartening to hear Nigel say that women’s rugby is central to her concerns, while her background in athletics, multisport performance and media governance brings a fresh and fair culture to the development of rugby.
Ten full-time contracts, up to 15 other players on reserve, as well as match and practice fees are a step in the right direction. One year away from the World Cup, further appointments are planned for staff around performance lifestyle advice, psychology and other sciences, as well as initiatives to develop the high end in the country. of Wales.
Nigel Walker added: “This is only part, although important, of the puzzle as we seek to ensure we have a top-class international women’s program. We will continue to add expertise to the management structure and we are also working hard behind the scenes on the stages to ensure we have a solid player background to support the highest level. We are in the process of recruiting an age category manager as well as coaches to lead the U18 and U20 teams for men’s and women’s football and establish the best competition structure to develop these players.
It’s a start that could finally turn desperation into hope for Welsh women’s rugby.
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