‘Women’s rugby needs same support as men’

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Despite improving and winning some important matches against international sides in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup, Springbok women failed to progress past the pool stage of the tournament in New Zealand.

But pundits and coaches agreed that the players put in inspiring performances against some of the best and largely professional teams, in the world. This has also highlighted the slow pace of development of the women’s game in South Africa.

Rugby commentator Dawn Dunn says women’s rugby needs the same kind of support as the men’s side to enable them to play rugby full-time.

This after the South African women’s team was eliminated in the group stages of the women’s Rugby World Cup. England beat them 75-nil last month.

Dunn says she is not surprised that the South African side lost.

She explains, “There is a spotlight on women in sports, on women’s rugby particularly from equality side perspective. It is all because it is all one sided there is absolutely no surprise in the results for me especially because you can’t expect a little bit of energy towards something to expect miraculous results. At the end of the day, the girls can only do their best which is what they did they do not lack from a skills perspective in anyway. What is lacking is them being able to play rugby full time. At the moment we have quite a few of our Springbok ladies that have to be employed to be able to pay bills, they pay their own expenses. As far as training is concerned, we are talking about things like, very simple things that boys do not have to worry about, gym membership for example.”

Holding a full-time job while representing SA

Rugby player Zinhle Ndawonye, who has represented the country at international level, says she has to hold down a full-time job as well as try to train and compete as a rugby player against professional players.

Ndawonye says if women were signed on as professional players the country will be able to compete meaningfully against national sides like England.

She adds that it would be great for ladies and young girls that are coming up especially in South Africa to make the sport professional.

She says she had to work and still try to be a professional rugby player, the reason being able to provide for her family with playing the game.

“If you are not at camp, you are not getting anything. What about the months where I am not at camp and still not working? If you look at New Zealand and you look at England, looking at those countries, they have made sports, especially rugby for women, professional and that helps us as young girls because most of these girls are coming from very bad backgrounds who want to make a living. They want to play sports, they want to be professional.”

Next year, the Blue Bulls will have a professional women’s squad of 30.

President of the Blue Bulls Rugby Union Willem Strauss says, “Definitely the first rugby union that have taken the provincial team from the amateur side to the professional side and great high-performance environment for them to perform their best and be great athletes. It is definitely a huge step for the province but not only for us but for South Africa.”

Similar opportunities for women 

Sharks marketing and communications manager Novashni Chetty says they have plans to ensure their women side is given similar opportunities as a men side.

“Raising the profile of women’s rugby in KwaZulu-Natal is very much a goal for the Sharks. There are various discussions on the goal to make the women’s rugby that is currently sitting under our union the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union and moving that towards professional arm of the province which is the Sharks. The Sharks are passionate about giving female rugby players the same opportunities as the male team and profiling the players to allow for commercial opportunities and also to allow them to have more of a professional set up,” Chetty adds.

Although only one union has put up its hand to offer their women players professional contracts, it will usher in a new era for rugby and the women who love to play the game.