‘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.
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