Talks about the future of men’s rugby have dominated rugby news during the Covid crisis, but ex-Black Fern Melodie Robinson says it’s crucial New Zealand Rugby starts considering how the women’s game will fare with equal urgency.
Sports organisations around the world are scrambling to figure out ways their codes can viably continue into the future in a post-Covid world. For New Zealand Rugby, that means the reimagining of a national rugby tournament, for which plans are already well in place for a mid-June kick off. With the Women’s Rugby World Cup due to be played in New Zealand next year, some former and current players have raised concerns about the lack of conversations being held about the women’s game.
Speaking on the latest episode of Rugby Unwrapped with Scotty Stevenson, TVNZ general manager for sport and events and ex-Black Fern Melodie Robinson said she’s worried about how women’s rugby is going to fare on the other side of the pandemic.
“Finding new talent, supporting the competition structures, putting the Farah Palmer Cup on television – if that reverses, all of that good work has just gone down the toilet and it really breaks my heart to think it’s a possibility,” she said.
One way New Zealand Rugby can show it’s as dedicated to the women’s game as the men’s will be in its handling of the Women’s Rugby World Cup next year. While audiences for women’s rugby have been growing, especially in countries like France and England, over the past few years, the proof will be in getting New Zealand fans to fill the seats.
“With New Zealand Rugby being under so much pressure, who’s going to pay for the tournament? Is World Rugby going to have to put their hand in their pocket? New Zealand has never paid to go into the gate to see a women’s rugby game specifically – how the hell do you think you’re going to get average Kiwis into these matches and venues?”
Robinson also pointed out the need for a much better service at live events. She said mothers in particular need more from an event they could be shelling out hundreds of dollars for, and the current state of live games is anything but encouraging.
“Mothers are the most powerful group that rugby should be focusing on, really. Because we’re the ones that get our kids to rugby games… when I go to a Blues game, the only activity for kids is you get a Blues flag or you get your face painted, and I’m sorry but kids [don’t want] their face painted, it’s just not cool. As a parent I don’t want to give my kids a slimy pie or chips, I want more options.”
If New Zealand Rugby is focused on inclusiveness, diversity and respect, Robinson says they need to show it in the way they handle the game as a whole, not just the men’s teams.
“The investment never was put in for years and years and years and the main reason was that ‘rugby was a sport for men’, so there’s a lot of catching up to do. My main argument is the only growth area in New Zealand rugby, in terms of participation, is in girls’ and women’s rugby, and why the hell would you turn off the tap to the only area that you’re growing numbers in?
“I just want to change the conversation around women’s rugby. It’s not just about investment, it’s about the fact that they [teams] are commercially viable and they can be sold for sponsorship companies. There are companies that are interested, they just need to know who the players are, who the audience is and get the data on the supporters and coaches, and New Zealand rugby has all of that information.”