24 May 2018

Fair Play: Being female in sport is not a disability

From Fair Play, 11:39 am on 24 May 2018

A rugby dispensation form that puts “female player” in the same category as “physical” and “developmental” conditions has been pulled by the WRFU.

Concerns were raised by a Wellington father Ken Trass, after he was encouraged to fill in a Wellington Rugby Football Union player dispensation form for his eight year-old daughter to allow her to play tackle rugby.

WRFU jr player dispensation form filled out by Ken Trass

WRFU jr player dispensation form filled out by Ken Trass Photo: Ken Trass

The dispensation form asks what grounds are being sought for re-grading. In the same section there’s an option for a temporary or permanent physical condition, a temporary or permanent developmental condition and for a female player.

Then the form asks the applicant about how the “condition” affects their safety and enjoyment of the game.

“The form basically insinuated [that] being female was a disability or an impediment of some kind,” Trass says.

He says he raised the issue with Wellington Rugby who did not respond.

Junior rugby on a Saturday morning

Junior rugby on a Saturday morning Photo: Ken Trass

Other parents in junior rugby have also raised their concerns about the wording and placement on the forms.

Trass says the form reflects “a level of unconscious bias, and fairly conscious bias … that still unfortunately permeates rugby.”

He says the form is bigger than him or his daughter – it’s a rugby-wide discussion about a culture that entrenches a “boys and others” attitude.

“We need not only language on forms, but language from leadership… saying rugby is for everyone, not specifying gender,” argues Trass. “And certainly not identifying female in the same category as a physical or developmental condition;

“Because being female is certainly not.”

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero.

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero. Photo: Supplied.

Disability Rights Commissioner and former international para-athlete Paula Tesoriero says being female is not a disability and she is concerned about the placement of “female” player on the form.

“Disabled people live… fulfilling lives,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to think there is an underlying view that being labelled disabled is a bad thing.”

When Fair Play first approached the WRFU in April for comment, a senior member of staff there did not take the concern seriously. He said at the time that Fair Play was making “something out of nothing”.

NZRU's Cate Sexton

NZRU's Cate Sexton Photo: linkedin - Cate Sexton

New Zealand Rugby Union women’s development manager Cate Sexton says the WRFU has since pulled the form.

“There will be a separate form for female players,” she says. “It was never the intention of Wellington Rugby (to be) grouping the females with different disabilities; physical or developmental.

“I commend them for that [change].”

The numbers of girls and women participating in rugby is growing significantly and the NZRU is determined to ensure females, and those of differing abilities have access to the sport. More than 17,000 females participate in rugby.

Just this week contracts for the Black Ferns were announced and discussions of a Super competition for women is underway.

More female engagement officers are being hired and rugby is being modified for women.  Cate Sexton says girls want to play against girls, while boys want to play against boys. Both sexes can participate in mixed teams until under 13 level when they must be segregated under world rugby guidelines.

Paraclimber Rachel Carter halfway up a climb on an indoor wall.

Paraclimber Rachel Carter. Photo: Sian Moffitt.

International para-climber Rachel Carter is glad for segregation in sport. She competes against women, and has also competed against able-bodied people but prefers to compete against climbers with the same ability as her.

“If I always had to compete against able bodied people then I would feel like I would always going to fail ... it would take the fun out of the sport,” she says. “As much as we do it for our own accomplishment, winning does … feel good.”