Diaries the IRFU don’t want you to read
Ireland women’s squad not allowed provide personal columns for media during World Cup
The Irish women’s team that won the Grand Slam in 2013. Players have been banned from talking to journalists for exclusive columns to appear in print or online during the upcoming World Cup. Photograph: Inpho
The USA, New Zealand and Kazakhstan are all lining up for the Irish women’s rugby team over the next fortnight in Paris. You didn’t know?
The side, Grand Slam champions in 2013, don’t have the profile of the Irish men’s team but appreciate any interest they can get especially when they are preparing for the biggest competition on the calendar.
The team will always struggle to draw similar levels of support and that fact of life leaves the IRFU edict this week more confusing than clear.
The squad were told that they were not allowed to provide personal columns for the media during the World Cup, which takes place over the next few weeks. What that means is players have been banned from talking to journalists for exclusive columns to appear in print or online.
Inside viewThe players would be paid for doing this and the enterprise is seen as a way of giving an inside view about life playing in a World Cup. It is not a platform for disenchanted players to trade team secrets or those with an axe to grind with team management or union.
But how many people from the mainstream media are likely to appear in France and what level of national interest is there in the event? A column would be viewed by many as a significant platform for the individual, the team, the tournament and the sport.
The decision comes as some surprise as the IRFU have been drumming up interest in the women’s team by offering the players for interview this week before their departure to the French Federation HQ just outside Paris. They say diary requests are declined to ensure the best possible focus and preparation for “our teams and each individual player”.
But the women are amateur, not professional like the men. While they agree to act and play under the auspices of the IRFU, they are not employed by the union as the men are but work in regular jobs, some such as Nora Stapleton for the IRFU itself.
It appears that while the union wish to promote the tournament and the team they don’t wish to hand over too much autonomy to players.
In doing so, it could be questioned whether the decision is in the best interests of genuinely promoting the Irish women’s team. Why permit players to engage fully with the media during the year and then pull down the shutters for the World Cup.
The decision arrives in the same spirit as the one taken in March of this year, when the union made efforts to prevent a picture being published of the women’s team proudly wearing their county colours. The photograph said “we come from all corners of Ireland”. It was published in The Irish Times on March 1st.
The IRFU said “No” because of sundry of sponsors’ names on the jerseys – one for a hospice – which clashed with their own. The picture was published.
The call to gag the players this time is a union one. When contacted this week the International Rugby Board said that while the IRFU sign a participation agreement with them there is nothing explicit in it which would prevent players expressing opinion through columns in the media.
“There is nothing to prevent it,” said an IRB official. “Players would need permission from the union not us. Anything said would have to follow agreed lines in the sense that it should be appropriate public comment, the same as doing interviews, tweeting or facebook.”
Social mediaAnd there’s another irony. Facebook and Twitter, in essence, provide every player with their own column and their own platform to express whatever views they wish. In terms of blocking the players from appearing in the media and expressing themselves in a tournament where there is significant down time, the decision seems nonsense.
In terms of deflating the profile of players, preventing some athletes from earning modest fees and presenting the IRFU as heavy handed towards women’s rugby, where they have previously erred, it has been a sure-fire success.