Can you imagine if, after all the discussions of the last week, New Zealand Rugby had turned around a few days ago and said ‘We regret to inform you that the All Blacks will not play any tests this year’? No, neither can I. If they had, a significant portion of the country may have marched on New Zealand Rugby Headquarters (or perhaps more likely, vented on Facebook, Twitter or talkback radio). But when New Zealand Rugby CEO, Mark Robinson said earlier this week:
‘COVID-19 has caused a range of unique complexities for the international women’s game. Many players balance work commitments with rugby, so for many teams extended periods away from their home countries to play international rugby is tough. The financial implications of quarantine and travel are also significant to teams.’
How did you feel? Were you outraged? No?
Black Ferns fullback Selica Winiata herself said on the back of the decision:
‘When you’re looking at crossing borders, especially Australia, and needing to isolate two weeks either side, there goes a month straight away. For a lot of the girls that’s just not practical. On top of that, allowing the time to play the test matches. That’s probably the biggest thing that stands out between the women and men that make it a lot more difficult.’
To be honest, at first, I thought, yep, that makes complete sense. The players are different to their male peers in that, although they train with professional standards, financially, it’s a very different situation as players juggle Black Ferns commitments with their regular jobs. It’s in the too hard basket. Instead, there will be a Possibles versus Probables match on Saturday 7th November and then the Black Ferns will play the New Zealand Barbarians on Saturday 14th November and Saturday 21st November. That’s good enough a year out from the Rugby World Cup, right?
After an exchange with someone on the subject I realised that I was taking the easy option. I was nodding my head instead of saying, ‘No, it’s not good enough.’ The question that person put to me was simple.
What if the All Blacks just played North v South in a three match series as preparation; what would you think?
I didn’t like that idea much at all. Yes, I enjoyed North v South the other week, but play three matches instead of test matches? No thanks. I want tests. The players need tests.
In 2018, the year after another Black Ferns Rugby World Cup victory, New Zealand Rugby and the New Zealand Rugby Players Association negotiated a formal Black Ferns professional performance programme for the first time. This was a huge step in the right direction.
It was agreed that 30 Players would be employed by NZR on a Black Ferns Contract as part of the Black Ferns Squad. In each contract year these Players would receive:
- a Guaranteed Retainer spread across four tiers. A tier 1 player receiving $20,000 and a tier 4 player receiving $12,500
- a share of the Black Ferns Legacy Fund which would see $100,000 allocated across the Black Ferns Squad based on experience related criteria. This fund increased to $150,000 in 2019
- $2,000 per week when Assembled with the Black Ferns Team (estimated assembly of 50days = approx. $14-15k)
- An opportunity to join the Player Savings Scheme. For Players with four years of experience as a Black Fern or less the employer will contribute $2.50 for every dollar saved up to a maximum of $3,125 per year, and for Players with five years of experience as a Black Fern or more $3 for every dollar saved up to a maximum of $3,750 per year
- An opportunity to join Kiwisaver
- Full medical insurance
- Life insurance and Trauma cover
- When performing Promotional Activities outside of Black Ferns assembly, $500 per day or $250 per half day
Undoubtedly a step in the right direction but it doesn’t pay all the bills. It needs to go further.
Now, if you’re reading this and you’re rolling your eyes thinking, what a load of PC, woke nonsense, firstly, thank you for sticking with me rather than clicking away. More importantly, why haven’t you clicked away? It’s easy to reject this based on the usual argument of commercial viability. But if we keep dismissing the idea then nothing will ever change. I’m not pretending I’ll change the world through this article, but I’m going to do my best to watch more Farah Palmer Cup action, take more interest in the Women’s game and promote it as best I can, whether it’s on this website or elsewhere. I won’t be perfect and it won’t be all the time, but I’ll make sure I’m a damn sight better than I am now though. I’ve never written about this subject before so I’ve made a start. We can all make a start. We can talk about it, we can discuss it, we can watch more games in person or on tv. The product is bloody good, so why wouldn’t we? The more eyes we get on the game, the more conversations we have, the more solutions will become available. This doesn’t have to be a long term ambition.
Selica Winiata also said this week:
‘It’s about being resilient. That’s the thing with the Black Ferns, when challenges get thrown at us, it’s how we react.’
Maybe if we all change a little bit, or preferably a lot, they won’t have to be so resilient off the field. Imagine how good they’d be then. Imagine how good they’d feel. Imagine how good you’d feel. One in seven rugby players in New Zealand is female. Maybe it can become one in six, or one in five, or one in four…
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