Cuts in com­mu­nity put women’s game at risk of re­gres­sion

Re­dun­dan­cies at grass roots threaten growth of re­cent years RFU crit­i­cised for treat­ing fe­male rugby as ‘af­ter­thought’

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Fiona To­mas The Daily Tele­graph

The Rugby Foot­ball Union has been warned that it risks jeop­ar­dis­ing years of growth in the women’s game if it goes ahead with job losses at com­mu­nity level.

The RFU plans to make 104 re­dun­dan­cies as it con­tin­ues to deal with the fi­nan­cial fall­out from the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, with all rugby devel­op­ment of­fi­cer (RDO) and com­mu­nity rugby coach (CRC) po­si­tions to go.

But Alex Grad­well-Spencer, who set up a women’s team at Glos­sop RUFC, where her two boys played, said: “With­out our CRCs and RDOs, we’re ab­so­lutely stuffed.” She says she was in­spired by the RFU’s In­ner War­rior pro­gramme when it was launched in 2017 with the aim of in­tro­duc­ing 100,000 women and girls to rugby by 2021.

The scheme, which the RFU says will con­tinue, has had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact: 18,000 women have at­tended more than 500 War­rior camps across Eng­land over the past two years, but Grad­well-Spencer fears those gains could be lost.

“I’d say 90 per cent of the growth is down to what the RFU has done to help sup­port me in grow­ing our women’s team,” she said.

“The RFU has been so sup­port­ive in putting on women’s devel­op­ment days to help grow the game. The next phase was to start cre­at­ing that lo­cal path­way – be­cause there isn’t one here for girls – but I need sup­port to do that.

“I feel like we will go back­wards in terms of grow­ing the game and keep­ing the mo­men­tum rolling.”

There is a grow­ing frus­tra­tion across the women’s com­mu­nity game, given how pro­vi­sional fix­tures for men’s com­mu­nity rugby were re­leased nearly three weeks ago, but none have been an­nounced for fe­male equiv­a­lent lev­els.

“The men’s team at Glos­sop have had pro­vi­sional fix­tures for ages, but why haven’t the women also got theirs?” said Grad­well-Spencer. “We’re very much an af­ter­thought.”

The RFU an­nounced last Thurs­day that the adult league sea­son would not com­mence in Septem­ber and told it would pro­vide an up­date on women’s fix­tures “in due course”.

Jess Bun­yard, a rugby devel­op­ment of­fi­cer at Hud­der­s­field RUFC, wor­ries women such as Grad­wellSpence­r

could be left be­hind as com­mu­nity roles shrink.

“We run the risk of ig­nor­ing where women’s rugby can have its most im­pact in women’s lives,” said Bun­yard. “The sporty ones will come to the clubs any­way, but the great­est im­pact will be with the moth­ers who think they’re un­fit, they don’t have the skill set and lack the con­fi­dence.

“I’ve seen them come into my club and I’ve seen their con­fi­dence bloom, they’re do­ing things they were never ca­pa­ble of do­ing and they’ve sud­denly gained a whole other fam­ily to lean on.”

Women’s and girls’ rugby in Eng­land had been go­ing from strength to strength. Be­fore lock­down, the RFU was on tar­get to en­gage 100,000 women and girls into the sport by 2021 and make 25,000 of those reg­u­lar club play­ers. RFU fig­ures show there are around 37,000 women and girls who are reg­is­tered to play club rugby in Eng­land.

Richard Cheetham is a lec­turer at the Univer­sity of Worces­ter who was made re­dun­dant in his part­time role as an RFU coach ed­u­ca­tor this week. Hav­ing men­tored for­mer Eng­land play­ers on level-four coach­ing cour­ses, in­clud­ing World Cup win­ner Danielle Water­man, he has seen an in­crease in women tak­ing up coach­ing roles.

“Women fin­ish­ing play­ing now want to coach,” he said. “That’s the po­si­tion we want to be in. We don’t want the women’s game to be a poor re­la­tion to the men’s game.”

Com­mu­nity spirit: Glos­sop Ama­zones pose with The Daily Tele­graph’s Mag­gie Alphonsi

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