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IRB rules responsible for underfunding of women’s rugby?
There are times when the attitude of the New Zealand Rugby Union when it comes to preparing their women’s team for the World Cup could be summed up as „Our team can beat you all with one arm tied behind our backs!“ Not content with hiding their team away from rest of the world for most of the time between tournaments, the NZRU have excelled themselves by cancelling not only their most important domestic tournament and now also the only international fixtures they had planned this year – a two test tour by Canada – which was called off over the weekend.
The excuse is that a major financial crisis in New Zealand has resulted in cuts to all teams – other than the All Blacks – though even given that slashing back their most successful international team (well, how many World Cups have the men won recently?) in the year of their world cup defence would seem to be little odd.
Canada’s attitude to its women’s team also seems a bit of a puzzle – as the cancellation of the tour was as much due the lack of funding they give to their women’s team as well. Yet this is the nation that „owned the podium“ at the Winter Olympics, with just as much funding going to the women as the men, so underfunding a a team ranked fourth in the world (to the extent that it costs its players nearly £6,000 a year to wear the shirt) just because its the women’s team, seems difficult to understand, especially when you look at the ranking and status of their men’s team.
However, an article on ScrumQueens by Canadian international Meghan Mutrie reveals, in passing, the reason why not only New Zealand and Canadian RFUs fail to support their women’s achievements, but also why other nations – large and small – fail to give their women’s teams the backing that they deserve:
„Although the Canadian women are 10 positions higher than their male counterparts on the IRB World Rankings, they receive limited funding because the IRB’s financial commitment to each nation is dependent on where the international men’s program places.“
In other words, the accountants for all but the richest unions (ie., in practical terms, pretty much everyone but England), will say that any penny spent on women’s rugby is a penny wasted because financially it is only the performance of their men’s team that matters. Canada or the USA or Kazakhstan or whoever could win the World Cup this summer, but it would not make a scrap of difference to their bank balance, but on the other hand finishing – say – 15th instead of 16th at next year’s men’s tournament would result in extra funding, possibly significant extra grants funding from the IRB grant.
It all begins to make sense. Why would any cash-strapped national rugby union spend anything on the women’s game, when the same money invested in their men’s team might would result in even more in return in IRB grants? Given that it is perfectly understandable that Fiji and Papua New Guinea would bother attempting to qualify for the women’s world cup, or maybe that even Scotland might decide that the women’s world cup sevens was just not worth the effort.
Understandable, but hardly fair. Or equitable. Or reasonable. Or remotely sensible for an organisation like the IRB that is supposedly attempting to grow the female game. Perhaps, like all big organisations, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing – or maybe high minded statements about rugby being a game for everyone fade away when £ and $ signs start appearing (or, in some cases, disappearing).
I would not even begin to suggest that the IRB should give equal prominence to the performance of women’s teams when it comes to dividing up the cash, but something in proportion to player numbers would be reasonable – about 8% of rugby players worldwide are female, so 8% of the cash should be dependent on the performance of women’s teams.
Just think what effect that change might have – if the success of a nation’s women’s team resulted in extra funding. Do you really think New Zealand would still sit at home for three years in every four? Or do you think that maybe Samoa would maybe fit in more than one fixture for their women’s team every four years, or that Canadian women might get to wear their colours without the need for a second mortgage?