‘I feel a bit lost’: rea a

The Black Ferns won the World Cup in style, but face an uphill bat­tle to achieve pay par­ity with their male coun­ter­parts, writes Olivia Cald­well.

Sunday News - - RUGBY -

IT was only two months ago that Black Ferns prop Toka Natua scored a record hat-trick of tries in the women’s Rugby World Cup fi­nal – now she is feel­ing a sense of loss and strug­gle.

Natua spoke to Sun­day News from her home in Toko­roa this week and it is hard to imagine any­one who has more pas­sion for the game.

‘‘I am def­i­nitely go­ing to try to be a Black Fern for as long as I live,’’ she says. ‘‘See­ing these re­tired Black Ferns, I don’t know how I can let it go. I don’t know if I’d be okay with re­tir­ing.

‘‘I want to be in the game. I love rugby, it is on my mind 24/seven.’’ How­ever, all is not rosy. While Natua is con­trac­tu­ally obliged not to talk about pay dis­par­ity in the women’s game while the New Zealand Rugby Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion talks with New Zealand Rugby about a pay deal, it is ob­vi­ous the young graphic de­signer strug­gled to even get to the World Cup in Au­gust and is now ad­just­ing men­tally to be­ing a feted world cham­pion, who doesn’t get paid for her ef­forts and may never realise her sport­ing po­ten­tial.

Lead­ing in to the RWC, Natua re­duced her work­ing hours at Sign Magic in Toko­roa to fit in train­ing at Hamil­ton twice a week, mean­ing a re­duced pay packet each week.

On top of this she would pay petrol out of her own back pocket for the two-hour round trip to train­ing and asked her par­ents and ex­tended fam­ily for do­na­tions so she could be­come a Black Fern.

‘‘Com­ing back and hav­ing my job and still train­ing for it [rugby] – I felt like I wasn’t giv­ing ev­ery­thing in to what I love,’’ she says. ‘‘It was so hard try­ing to bal­ance ev­ery­thing. Imagine if I did or could [be full time] how much bet­ter I would be.

‘‘I want to know what the best would look like.’’

It was worth it for Natua. The 25-year-old re­alised her life­long dream of pulling on the black jer­sey, made life­long friends, saw the world and re­turned as a world cham­pion.

‘‘I’ve grown up in a re­ally strong and sup­port­ive fam­ily. They all know my strug­gle and it was their goal as much as my own to be­come a Black Fern.’’

Natua is not the type to com­plain. She is hugely grate­ful to be a part of the cam­paign and pays trib­ute to NZ Rugby for giv­ing her the op­por­tu­nity.

How­ever, you can’t help won­der if the prop and her team-mates had been given more time to train, more money to man­age and at the very least a re­tainer pack­age – then per­haps they could take the game to a new level. As it re­mains, Natua is con­fused with what next to do with her life and is not sat­is­fied with her mod­est daily rou­tine liv­ing in Toko­roa.

‘‘Com­ing back from the World Cup I am­feel­ing a bit lost. I know I need big­ger and bet­ter things. I have no drive now liv­ing day-by­day.

‘‘It’s okay, but I feel like I want to do more and I want to be more. Even though I love my job I just know I want to go fur­ther.

‘‘Be­ing on a real high and then com­ing back to my re­al­ity. I re­alised there is and was some things I’m not happy with.’’

The Black Ferns were paid a fee for their win when they re­turned from Ire­land, how­ever they had costs such as ACC levies to pay them­selves.

It is a far cry from the All Blacks, whose 43-man squad in France are es­ti­mated to have come at a cost of more than $300,000 for just one week. It has also been re­ported that for their RWC cam­paign the women earned about $2000 in match fees, the men $7500. The men are also paid an­nual re­tain­ers rang­ing from $195,000 to $850,000 and have a bonus struc­ture, mean­ing the cup win meant brought them each an ex­tra $100,000.

The All Blacks also travel over­seas in busi­ness class, as do Su­per Rugby play­ers. The Black Ferns flew home from Ire­land in econ­omy class af­ter play­ing five games in 17 days.

‘‘To me it feels like the ef­fort you go through when you get that amount, it doesn’t meet the ef­fort you go through. It re­minds you that you’re not at that level of the All Blacks,’’ Natua says.

Those who dis­agree that the Black Ferns and other women’s sports don’t war­rant con­tracts or pay (and there are many) ar­gue there is not enough money to pay for a game that doesn’t bring in the com­mer­cial value the All Blacks clearly do.

But of the record $161.7m turnover earned by NZ Rugby in 2016, just $5.5 mil­lion was in­vested into the women’s game. This was spread across the Black Ferns’ Sevens cam­paign in Rio, the Black Ferns’ World Cup cam­paign, women’s rugby de­vel­op­ment and the Farah Palmer Cup pro­vin­cial cham­pi­onship.

When asked di­rectly af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle if she would like to be a paid pro­fes­sional Natua didn’t hes­i­tate. ‘‘I guess I would. I would love that.’’

With pay ne­go­ti­a­tions un­der way she is no longer al­lowed to com­ment, but ad­mits it would be nice to train like a pro­fes­sional and not have to think about how to af­ford her next trip over the hill to train­ing.

‘‘Rugby isn’t a thing you can turn off for three months and get into it af­ter that. It’s al­ways on my mind, it af­fects how I sleep and ev­ery­thing I do.

‘‘I feel so un­set­tled and want­ing more. I amso used to liv­ing day-by day. I want to achieve some­thing big­ger and I don’t know what it is I want to do.’’

Pay dis­cus­sions have come at a time when women’s rugby reached a record 24,295 out of a to­tal of 156,067 play­ers in 2017.

NZ Rugby head of women’s rugby de­vel­op­ment Cate Sex­ton said it was ex­cit­ing to see fe­male rugby lead the growth of the sport in New Zealand.

‘‘2017 has been an­other year of cel­e­bra­tion for women’s rugby.

‘‘Both the Black Ferns and the Black Ferns Sevens are won­der­ful role mod­els for young women and their suc­cesses are in­spir­ing a gen­er­a­tion to play rugby.’’

Black Ferns prop Toka Natua at work this week as a graphic de­signer in Toko­roa. Be­fore the World Cup she re­duced her shifts to make time for train­ing in Ham m

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