4 Mar 2021

Bidwell: women's rugby let down once again

6:32 pm on 4 March 2021

Opinion - Well fancy that.

Black ferns Chelsea Alley tackles Barbarians player Joanah Ngan-Woo during their rugby match. Black Ferns v New Zealand Barbarians. 2020.

Black ferns Chelsea Alley tackles Barbarians player Joanah Ngan-Woo during their rugby match in 2020. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Who could possibly have imagined that the women's Rugby World Cup would get bumped?

I won't be a hypocrite at this point. I will admit that I have expressed disquiet about global events such as the Olympic Games being staged, due to concerns about Covid-19.

But, hell's teeth, a 12-team women's rugby tournament being held in the northern tip of New Zealand is hardly a threat to life as we know it.

And yet player welfare is the reason being rolled out by World Rugby for the event's postponement, much like we were told when this year's women's Six Nations competition was shelved.

Why is it that women's rugby is always the first to go? Is there something in the players' physiology that makes them more vulnerable to coronavirus than the male teams?

Player welfare? I'll tell you what harms player welfare. Never getting to play harms people's welfare. Being paid lip service harms people's welfare. Having to watch on as heaven and earth are moved to stage men's rugby definitely harms people's welfare.

Let's be fair dinkum about this. If these protocols were applied across the board, people would be disappointed, but they would understand.

But Super Rugby Aotearoa is on right now and, as sure as night follows day, the All Blacks are going to play this year. Now some of their schedule is a bit fluid, given Covid flare ups and the like, but the All Blacks will play.

Put it this way, if this was their Rugby World Cup year would that tournament still be on?

I've written about this stuff before. Not because I'm some devotee of female sport or out to create a stir or to grandstand in some way. I mention these things because I am interested in fairness.

Read more from Hamish Bidwell

Female athletes routinely get an unfair go. They're belittled and disregarded and abused and we never do anything to change it.

Sure, we window dress. We put a Black Fern on the Super Rugby coverage to show how enlightened we are and prove we have no gender bias.

Really? Well, how about demanding the actual Black Ferns team play on TV, rather than just sticking a token one behind a microphone?

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and their media partners continually cloak themselves in the achievements of female players when it's convenient. Heck, more than the odd politician does too.

Black Ferns captain Eloise Blackwell.

Black Ferns captain Eloise Blackwell said she was disappointed by the postponement of the 2021 Rugby World Cup. Photo: Photosport

But when things get a little tough or something has to give, always the women who are expendable, just look at what happened to the Black Ferns' eight tests last year.

And that's fine. Honestly it is.

If the games don't rate and it all costs a fortune and the standard is rubbish, then sweet. Come out and say so.

But don't pretend it's about player welfare. Don't laud the players and garland them with awards. If women's sport is that irrelevant to you - if it's always going to be treated as unnecessary and a luxury - then just be transparent about it.

If I'm a Black Fern now, I'm filthy. But can I say so? Of course not.

I'm on the NZR payroll and, no doubt, told I'm fortunate to be so. Can I criticise the governing body? Can I say this is a joke? Can I take my ball and go and play elsewhere? No I can't and, in some ways, that's clever from NZR.

If you limit - or even eliminate - dissenting voices, then those that do blow up on the Black Ferns' behalf can be dismissed as cranks.

Rugby is not in rude health. If it is to survive - let alone thrive - then it needs to appeal to a female audience. It needs mums to want their daughters to play it and it needs girls to see a pathway and a place for them.

It's not about presenting these people with the male game and saying 'isn't this great'. It's about selling female players by actually staging meaningful games for them and treating them with respect.

We've talked enough about all this stuff, we need actions now. All we get instead, though, is another postponement of a pinnacle event and more weasel words about why.

Honestly, you wonder why the Black Ferns bother.

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