Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the latest turn of events in Irish Rugby, but news of a letter to the Irish government signed by 62 present and past Irish internationals complaining about the IRFU’s management of women’s rugby is deeply worrying.
The players themselves are not satisfied that either of the reviews ordered by the Union will be acted upon. (The first, chaired by John Robinson, is looking into ‘the long-term interests of the women’s game, including the alignment between the Domestic Game and The High-Performance areas, player pathways and women’s competitive structures.’)
Think of a famous name in recent Irish rugby history, and it’s likely to appear as a signatory to the letter. Even South Africa’s high performance director, Lynne Cantwell, has added hers to the charge sheet.
Phrases like ‘multiple cycles of substandard commitment from the union, inequitable and untrustworthy leadership’ make discomfiting reading. But the players have obviously long lost confidence in the people running their programme.
They have confirmed my worry that the findings of the second review – into the failure to qualify for the World Cup – might not be published or even acted upon. There are concerns that evidence given on the assurance of anonymity might be brought to public view, but that very public needs to know precisely what the panel’s judgement is.
The IRFU’s response to the letter can be read at: https://www.irishrugby.ie/2021/12/13/irfu-statement-on-letter-to-minister/ It claims it is fully committed to the women’s game.
The lack of supporting structures below international level give the lie to that statement. Its pathway programme (https://www.irishrugby.ie/2021/11/20/nothinglikeit-signs-of-growth-in-rugby-for-women-and-girls/) posted in November, makes no mention of an U20 national side. Nor is it clear whether the elements listed are already in place or merely plans for the future.
There are plenty of voices criticising the players’ stand. ‘A bunch of losers’ is one phrase used; more often it’s the complaint that women’s rugby depends of the men’s game for survival; does it deserve favoured treatment? Some suggest forming a breakaway union.
The two sports ministers in the Irish government, Catherine Martin and Jack Chambers, have now sought a meeting with the IRFU. They would be willing to meet the players too