James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Rugby: Women's sevens team pay to play

Female players put up their own money to help cover cost of trip south, but rugby bosses deny it's sexism.

MP Sue Moroney accused the WRU of having an attitude from a bygone era. Photo / BOP
MP Sue Moroney accused the WRU of having an attitude from a bygone era. Photo / BOP

The Waikato women's sevens rugby team are digging into their own pockets to play at a national tournament while their male counterparts go free.

But the Waikato Rugby Union says the women knew their trip would not be fully paid for, as it fends off accusations of sexism.

The team is playing in the Pub Charity Rugby Sevens tournament in Queenstown this weekend - the first in a decade to include women.

WRU chief executive Graham Bowen said the union had made a loan to the Mooloo women's team so they could travel, and expected them to pay it back within three months.

The union paid some money towards flights and food for the team, but the players would have to pay about $200 each.

The union had not budgeted for a women's team in Queenstown because there had not been a Waikato women's NPC team for six years until last year.

"We said, 'We will try to get your airfares paid for but if you decide to go you have to accept you will have to fundraise to do it,' and they were very keen to do that. This was an absolute clear understanding with these girls before we even started this year."

But Labour's women's affairs spokeswoman and Hamilton MP Sue Moroney took to Facebook to call the decision "archaic bigotry" and accused the WRU of having an attitude from a bygone era.

"I think it's a decent dose of both a lack of planning and an unhealthy dose of sexism because it doesn't look as if they have contemplated sending a similar message to the men's team.

"Apparently the WRU has said it is a business decision, but I think it shows a lack of business nous and an understanding about the sorts of attitudes that New Zealanders have in the year 2013."

The Herald spoke to relatives of team members, one of whom said funding the team was "a sore point".

"And the fact that there wasn't a women's team in the Waikato up until last year makes you wonder what has been going on in terms of developing the game for women in our region," she added.

The Herald understands the New Zealand Rugby Union provides about two-thirds of the cost for both men's and women's teams to attend the tournament, and the shortfall is met by the participating unions.

Mr Bowen dismissed talk of sexism regarding the women's team.

"You ask the majority of that team whether they are happy and if they understood what the situation was and they will tell you they were under the complete and clear understanding that if they went they would have to support themselves."

The women's game has received $1.6 million from High Performance Sport NZ, and many players are looking to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, which will be the first to feature the sport.

- NZ Herald

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