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 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