Red roses legend bringing women’s rugby to the fore

  • England rugby international Rachael Burford establishes the Girls Rugby Club – a global rugby club for girls, by girls
  • Survey of female rugby players finds 1 in 2 have faced negative stereotypes and 83% have experienced issues with size and fit of supplied rugby playing and training kit
  • Over 90% believe playing rugby improves their self-esteem
  • Female rugby players worldwide invited to attend the very first virtual Annual General Meeting of the Girls Rugby Club

Red roses and Harlequins rugby legend Rachael Burford is leading a new global project aimed at providing a pathway for girls and women within rugby and to redress negative attitudes towards women in the sport.

The Girls Rugby Club is a rugby club built by girls, for girls in the form of an online platform to share knowledge, resources, inspiration and opportunities to girls and women around the world. Burford and a team of expert coaches, including fellow women’s internationals, will also roll out a series of face to face rugby workshops for female rugby players of all ages and abilities. The online platform will include options for free and paid memberships, alongside regular content of interest to the female rugby community.

Coaching will include rugby specific on and off-field courses, in addition to support from experts on a range of related disciplines including nutrition, mental wellbeing, sports psychology, strength & conditioning, recovery & rehabilitation, sports science and optimising menstrual cycles around training and competition. All content will be tailored for women and girls.

A 14-year international rugby veteran, Burford is turning her attention to the future of the women’s game as the next evolution of her successful Burford Academy. During lockdown, the Burford Academy was able to offer a range of popular Zoom training sessions and remote coaching to women and girls awaiting the return to play.

The Girls Rugby Club will continue to provide remote resources with the view to uniting the global women’s rugby community and filling the gaps left by funding cuts and restrictions around training and competition due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Girls Rugby Club founder Rachael Burford says, “I absolutely believe that rugby has the power to develop extraordinary women and girls. I’ve grown up in rugby and gone all the way to the elite level. There are opportunities out there but they’re quite limited and I think we’re facing an uphill battle now more than ever with the impacts of covid having a disproportionate effect on women’s sport worldwide.

“It is very important to me that we have a place that is for girls, a place to create incredible moments and a place where they can feel a part of something that’s bigger than just their local rugby club or themselves. The Girls Rugby Club will be somewhere they can feel part of a global community that’s all about driving and normalising girls and women in rugby.

“It’s not stand-alone, we want to be part of the movement that’s happening in women’s sport and within rugby and we want to give these girls the chance to be the best they can be. We want everyone to be a part of it and if we do that together as a whole community, then we can accelerate that movement.”

Female rugby players of all ages and abilities worldwide are invited to attend the very first virtual Annual General Meeting of the Girls Rugby Club in what will be an opportunity to discuss and share some of the challenges facing the women’s game, to table potential solutions and to provide input on shaping the Girls Rugby Club at its inception. Heading the meeting will be Rachael Burford and other founding members. To register your interest please email reception@girlsrugbyclub.com.

Survey results uncover root level challenges

The Girls Rugby Club has been established to solve some of the common issues within the women’s game, the same issues raised by a recent survey conducted by Rachael Burford in the lead up to the launch of her new project.

The survey canvassed over 50 female rugby players of all levels ranging in age from nine to 50, who have either played or are currently playing in England.

Among the key findings, were that 53.7% of respondents felt they had been judged or faced negative stereotypes playing rugby in England.

Furthermore, many shared their personal experiences facing bullying, difficulties with kit and facilities and a lack of opportunities compared to male rugby. A total of 83% said they had experienced issues with the size and fit of their supplied rugby playing and training kit, and 68.5% felt girls and women were not adequately catered to when it comes to rugby playing and training kit.

In contrast to the negative responses, the survey also uncovered some encouraging findings about the impact of rugby on self-esteem.

An overwhelming 90% of respondents said that playing rugby improved their self-esteem and confidence, and while 92.8% felt conscious of their weight and physical appearance, just 13% felt self-conscious in a rugby environment.

See below for the full summary of findings and an overview of respondents’ personal experiences.

For more information go to girlsrugbyclub.com

Survey Results

The following results have been collated from the answers of 55 respondents ranging in age from 9 – 50. They are female rugby players from all over the country who have played or currently play at all levels from grassroots through to regional/county representative level. For the full report please contact maryke.penman@macesport.com

  • 38.2% had experienced difficulty finding a suitable team
  • 85.5% said their local rugby club had a girls and/or women’s rugby team
  • 12.7% said their local rugby club did not have a girls and/or women’s rugby team
  • 36.4% found the rugby facilities available for girls/women were between poor and ok
  • 53.7% said they had been judged or faced negative stereotypes as a girl or woman playing rugby in England
  • 67.3% thought the rugby environment in England could be more female-friendly
  • 90.9% said that playing rugby improved their self-esteem and confidence
  • 38.2% believe it is important that they are coached by women
  • 92.8% felt conscious of their weight and physical appearance, but just 13% felt self-conscious in a rugby environment
  • 72.5% said they would do whatever it takes to improve their performance, including altering their weight
  • 68.5% felt girls and women were not adequately catered to when it comes to rugby playing and training kit
  • 83.3% had experienced issues with size and fit of supplied rugby playing and training kit

Anonymous personal experiences of girls and women playing rugby in England:

  • I always get questioned if I really play proper rugby and mum gets questioned why she lets me play.
  • The boys don’t pass to us. There are only three girls in our U11 squad and we are all fast, skillful and understand the game. There aren’t enough girls to make an U13 squad. The other local teams can’t get a girls’ squad large enough to play regularly. I am very worried for next season when we have to split from the boys.
  • Coaches of opposition teams have said don’t let the team with the ‘girl’ beat you … that would be embarrassing. We normally won though!
  • A lack of support moving from U11s mixed team to an all-girls team. I feel a lot of girls will stop rugby at this age due to a lack of girls’ teams. Parents have to be incredibly committed to take their daughters to often a different town.
  • I get picked on at school and told it’s not a girly thing to do
  • I’ve been called a lesbian, man, butch and scary. People have been scared of me.
  • Someone has said ‘you can’t play because you’re a girl’, but I just shake it off.
  • Boys won’t pass to me because I’m a girl. But some of the boys do pass to me and then I score because no one expects me to be able to. Sometimes boys shout at me if I drop the ball.
  • People telling me I shouldn’t be playing because I’m a girl, I suck and should give up.
  • A lack of clubs and training sessions being focused on boys. Going to training days being the only girl there and forced to stand out of all contact training. Being forced to leave my teammates and my club at age 11. I was previously captain of the team but was no longer allowed to play with boys. I’ve seen lots of training days set up for boys, but only pitch up and play sessions with very basic skills and training on offer for girls and most of the time it was all non-contact.
  • Criticism of my body shape, people not believing I could love playing and being a mum at the same time.
  • Being left out
  • Older men being old fashioned with their views.
  • Rude comments from the boys at school.
  • When playing mixer rugby, not being included by the boys on the team.
  • As a parent and team manager I have seen coaches sideline girls in mixed age ranges, seen boys ignore girls in their team without any sanction for this behaviour and less investment in growing girls squads than boys. Boys teams and coaches refusing to move from pitches allocated to girls for training, girls training mid-week because boys get priority at weekends.
  • Having to convince my schools to set up and be consistent with girls’ teams. They were set up but never had as much interest as the lads’ rugby so there was not as much commitment from the school.
  • Didn’t get passed to much with the boys
  • A significant lack of fixtures for school teams. Also could do with a female rugby coach for rugby at school.
  • People have asked why I wanted to look like a man as I was building muscle and they’ve questioned why I play rugby because they have said it is a men’s sport.
  • Backlash from school friends.
  • I don’t get passed to.
  • During a club open day I was asked by another coach if the girls would run his stand as if girls and women’s participation was not to be expected.
  • I am the only girl on my team and although the boys are nice some of them don’t pass to me and all the coaches call us ‘boys’ or ‘lads’ as a group. People at school laugh at me and say rugby is only for boys.
  • Boys not passing to me during training and matches. Name calling.
  • Not allowed to play rugby at school despite there being a boys’ team.

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