For Broadcasting Women’s Six Nations Rugby, Everyone Needs to Follow the French

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Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 2.30.14 PMCASTRES, FRANCE – It’s Sunday, February 8, 5pm, ish, and I’m shaking with barely contained ire as I type this. For the past week, I’ve been looking forward to seeing England take to the pitch against Wales in what I hoped would be a classic encounter in the 2015 Women’s Six Nations.

But thanks to a technical glitch, the only way to follow the game was via written updates, like the ones you sneakily read at work while your boss isn’t watching to keep up with tennis or cricket matches. No disrespect to their writers, but they’re not a patch on being able to watch the action unfold for yourself.

What struck me as odd, as I fruitlessly scoured the internet looking for any kind of live broadcast, was that it wasn’t just any old game we were talking about here – it was one featuring the England squad, many of whom were among the team who lifted the World Cup last year.

It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of this match to those who have followed England’s progress, even relative newcomers like me. I wanted to see how they got on in the wake of Gary Street’s departure and Tamara Taylor’s move to the captaincy. I was eager to find out whether Wales had the balls to take the game to the world champions and make a fight of it.

But I never got the chance. Now don’t get me wrong, had something technical somewhere not gone twang, then the chances are you wouldn’t be reading this… and yet.

Is it really fitting that a flagship match featuring the current World Champions should be relegated to a website, with all the frailties and technical baggage they come with? Disregard the sex of the players involved, and ask yourselves this: do world champions deserve better?

I think they do. Wales, too, if I’m honest. For the past few months, anyone with even a passing interest in sport has heard about the rise of women’s rugby; how more people are interested, are watching. How then, can the BBC, which can happily show wall-to-wall snooker coverage year in, year out, ignore the opportunity to spearhead a sport that not only is finally finding its feet, but is also representative of an entire gender?

Streaming the Women’s Six Nations on-line and then arguing that it makes it available to a wider audience is a fatuous one if the technology behind the site fails at the most crucial moment. Look at it this way: if it had been the men’s match between England and Wales, and the content had not been available, how long would it have taken for the BBC to be inundated with complaints?

The chances are, only a select few will grumble about the shoddy coverage of the Women’s Six Nations, which is almost as much of a shame as the broadcasts themselves. Take the Italy v Ireland match. Surely someone thought to find out whether the Italian RFU was going to supply more than someone using their mobile phone? God only knows what would have happened if they needed a TV official.

It’s not just inconvenient to those of us who WANT to watch and lend our support to this exciting, thrilling sport, it’s a slap in the face to the women who want to play it.

Luckily, there are glimmers of hope amid the gloom. If Italy and England want to see how to put on a show, all they need do is cast an eye toward the French. Their coverage of the match between France and Scotland was magnificent and well worthy of their national side.

The game aired on France 4, a national channel. It had commentators, multiple cameras, graphics, replays… all the little things we take for granted in every other sport that’s aired on television.

If the RFU is indeed serious about getting women’s rugby the coverage – and audience – it deserves and needs, then maybe they need to think very seriously about moving away from free-to-air broadcasting. There may be a campaign to keep the Six Nations on terrestrial TV and that’s great – but give both competitions a level playing field.

Can you imagine the English men’s side competing in a game that wasn’t sidelined in favour of a repeat of Escape to the Country? That’s what their female counterparts have to contend with.

Everyone knows digital broadcaster Sky has put sports of all kinds front and centre in people’s homes across the UK and Ireland, injecting new life into sports such as darts, cricket and golf – and lots more. When it comes to sport, Sky don’t seem to care who plays, just as long as someone does. In doing so, they have forced the other broadcasters to raise their games.

If women’s rugby made the leap to a channel that had the financial wherewithal to bankroll it, and the means to suitably advertise and broadcast it – imagine how that would trickle down to the very roots of the game? Investment, potential professional contracts, bigger audiences, endorsements – money, money, money…

Yet as long as we, the loyal audience, are stuck fiddling with refresh buttons and scouring dodgy sites for video streaming that looks like your grandad filmed it on his hand-held camera, and say nothing, this will NEVER change.

I want the same for these awe-inspiring, stout-hearted athletes as their male counterparts: glorious HD, surround sound, instant action replays, fourth officials.

I want to watch.

C’est moi. Feel free to add your thoughts below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Sheenagh Harrington, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.

About Scheenagh Harrington 17 Articles
Scheenagh Harrington is the undisputed better half of the James Harringtion rugby-pundit wife/husband team living in Castres, France. Their 3 little ones, will be rugby-nuts just by association. We love that.