Joanne O’Riordan: Women’s Rugby World Cup can restore your faith in sport
Comradery and pride are clear to see after meeting the Australian women’s rugby team
Just two professional teams will compete at the Women’s Rugby World Cup with 10 amateur teams. Photo: Paul Faith/Getty Images
In a world full of sporting drama queens and countries going bust to release players, it’s refreshing to meet a squad that not only are unpaid – they’ve all taken unpaid leave from 9-5 jobs – but play for the crest on their jerseys and the pride of representing their country.
The past few weeks papers have been flooded with opinions on playing a sport for money, setting prices on people that could wipe out the debts of countries, and which athlete is a bigger disgrace to his sport, Neymar or Conor McGregor.
Underneath it all, bubbling in the UCD campuses, the women’s Rugby World Cup prepares to kick off with two professional teams versus 10 amateur teams. That’s not a dig at the Rugby Unions, but meeting the Australian rugby team was an experience that was as eye opening as listening to GAA lads talk about how many times a week they go to the gym or train. It’s all for the love of the game.
The Australian Embassy kicked off the night with Ambassador Andrews stating figures and statistics based on the success of Australian sevens team winning gold at Rio last year. In total, there was an increase of 33 per cent of women now involved in playing rugby of some sort and all of this was due to the fact Australians got swept in a euphoric ecstasy of smelling an illustrious Olympic gold medal.
The players mixed and mingled care free, and I was lucky to get a chance to speak to some about small matters. It was fascinating to see that it did not bother them they were on unpaid leave, they did because they want to. They want to go back to Australia and be idols for all the little girls. After all, the women standing before me were laying down the foundations for teams to build off of and carry on the pride of wearing the Australian jerseys.
The players themselves were absolute heroes and true inspirations. Those words are thrown around quite often, but after a disappointing week where I saw photos of young boys with Neymar’s Barcelona jerseys looking quite gutted knowing they were probably never going to see Brazilian samba magic in the Camp Nou, these girls restored my faith that there are players out there that play for the honour and pride of the badge at the front of their jerseys.
These players, like a lot of the other amateurs, are now on unpaid leave from various jobs from construction workers to crime prevention through sport. Imagine telling Neymar he was going to lose his €500,000 weekly salary just because he dared play with his country.
But, the issue at hand here is not even the money, it is simple things the girls are hoping for. The universal agreement is that they hope that they can lay down the pathway for other young girls to dare to dream big and reach their goals regardless of whatever physical or mental barriers are there. They also hope after the World Cup to continue the year of underdogs and comebacks and bring the title back to Australia in a competition dominated by England and New Zealand.
All in all, the good vibes being sent out by the team are the complete opposite to the vibes being sent out by other sports. Money may be able to buy you the best players, but money cannot buy comradery, friendship and loyalty. That has to be earned, and in women’s sports, those traits are more important than financial stability. The RFU have kindly told the English team that bonuses do not await them at the end of the tournament, rather a P45. The RFU is probably the most dominant unit in rugby and has mounds of money, and they are now cutting the noses off the woman’s face to spite the woman.
This Rugby World Cup brings not just hope, but ambition for women out there to excel in their field. It provides an excellent platform for women’s sports to get some form of recognition. But more importantly, it provides hope that younger girls can look up to a Molloy, a Peat and the other women who are showcasing their talents for a fraction of the price.
After departing the Australian event, I felt delighted knowing that sport is not all commodified and I was happy in knowing the future of women’s sport was safe. We have dedicated players committed to changing attitudes, now it’s up to us to return the favour and support these girls. We do pride ourselves on being the “best fans in the world”.
After, my dad, a not-so-keen on rugby guy, told me “I’m actually really looking forward to seeing these girls play”. My father, a traditional man, has eradicated the idea of gender in his mind. He’s just looking forward to watching these teams create history. You should be too.