CASTRES, FRANCE – It’s been what can only be described as a phenomenal week in Women’s Rugby – on both sides of the Atlantic – but you probably don’t know it.
A few days ago, England Women – you know, the side that actually WON the Rugby World Cup this year – were crowned The Times and Sky Sports’ Sports Team of the Year. It might be a mouthful, but it’s put Women’s Rugby on the UK back pages like never before.
The squad, who romped to victory in August by mullering Canada 21-9, pipped the English Women’s Ashes-retaining cricket team (among other rivals) to the accolade, which was handed out at a star-studded bash on November 19 in Blighty.
Meanwhile, in Glasgow, Scotland, where the UK Coaching Awards were being held, England Women head coach Gary Street picked up two gongs – High Performance Coach of the Year and UK Coach of the Year.
Speaking about the awards, he told EnglandRugby.com: “It is fantastic that the team continues to be recognised for our achievements this year. There have been some fabulous performances by women’s teams’ sport while, personally, I am honoured to up against some esteemed coaching company.
“Receiving awards like this makes what we do very special but what is also important is that women’s sport and women’s rugby in England continues to stay in the national spotlight.”
It’s great that the trophies have been handed to these richly deserving recipients, and you’ll have to forgive me if I sound petulant, but isn’t it a bit sad that female sports stars had to have their own awards?
British TV presenter Sarah Jane Mee asks the same question. In her article, Mee champions her digital broadcaster employer’s increased use of women presenters in traditionally male-dominated sporting arenas, normalising their presence.
In my view, that doesn’t go far enough.
In the UK, the BBC holds an annual competition – voted for by the viewing public – to find that year’s Sports Personality. Never in its 60-year history have there been an equal number of female contenders for the title as men – in fact in the 1990s, from the 10 winning athletes, only one was a woman.
But the English Women’s rugby team won a World Cup. A WORLD CUP. In 2014! Like, just a few months ago!
It’s too early to say whether they’ll even make it into this year’s BBC shortlist but let’s be honest, if it had been their male counterparts who had got their hands on the Webb Ellis Trophy (all the more so given how they’re playing), it would be absolutely everywhere.
Rugby is making huge strides when it comes to the women’s game and breaking down the preconceptions and barriers. La Toya Mason and Emma Crocker recently spoke on British TV about how their sport is on the up – yet if that’s the case, why the need for a women-only award?
I’ll come back to that one…
Meanwhile, in America on November 17, the first female rugby players were inducted into the IRB (now World Rugby) Hall of Fame – an historic and unbelievably massive moment for France’s Nathalie Amiel, England’s Gill Burns and Carol Isherwood, Patty Jervey of the USA, and New Zealand’s Anna Richards and Farah Palmer.
I’ll bet they were all bursting with pride – and here’s where I get a bit snippy again – but where was the comprehensive back-page coverage of such an important sporting moment? Sure, it was picked up by digital media, but for such a groundbreaking move, it really should have been shouted from the top of the highest mountain.
I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, pouring cold water on these women’s achievements – nor indeed those of their male counterparts. But I’ve yet to find a satisfactory answer to my question: why do women need their own awards?
I’m not sure I will for the moment. All I can do is pin my hopes on my beloved rugby leading the charge, then crossing my fingers that other sports will follow.
And if you don’t think Women’s Rugby is exciting, watch this:
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