The grass ceiling: NZRU deal stalls over women

By Dana Johannsen

Former Black Ferns coach Dale Atkins believes the NZRU pays lip service to the women's programme, without backing it up with any meaningful investment. Photo / Duncan Brown
Former Black Ferns coach Dale Atkins believes the NZRU pays lip service to the women's programme, without backing it up with any meaningful investment. Photo / Duncan Brown

The New Zealand Rugby Union's investment in the women's game is believed to be the major sticking point with the players' association as they work to settle a new collective agreement.

The three-year collective ended on December 31 and the two parties have yet to sign a new contract.

New Zealand Rugby Players Association boss Rob Nichol would not comment on the negotiations, but confirmed his organisation now represents the elite female players.

"[Investment in women's rugby] is an issue that has been tabled as part of the negotiation process, and we'll resolve it as part of the collective bargaining one way or the other," said Nichol.

It is the first time the interests of women's rugby have been considered as part of the bargaining process.

Nichol said that as the women's game matured and became more professional it was a "natural progression" that the players get more formal and organised representation.

The inclusion of sevens in the Olympic programme has led to other countries beefing up their investment in their women's programmes. England, the United States, Canada and the Netherlands now have fully professional female squads, all training in high performance set-ups.

Mike Eagle: NZRU sees women's participation in rugby as essential to growing game

Nichol said New Zealand needed to follow suit if they were to be competitive at the 2016 Games.

"We're not talking about suddenly paying the players a whole heap of money. [Payment] is an important aspect of it, but the overarching approach is one of absolute professionalism with the high performance programme, anything less won't cut it on the international stage because every other country is right in that space."

The involvement of the players' association has forced the NZRU to seriously consider where the women's programme sits in its priorities.

With the increased focus on sevens there are fears that administrators will lose sight of the 15s game. The Black Ferns' 3-0 series loss to England on their tour late last year proved the four-time world champions have already lost significant ground to their rivals.

Nichol believes women's rugby has reached a crossroads.

"In the Black Ferns you have one of the most successful national teams of all time, and yet we're faced with a situation in the women's game where England and other countries are making significant investments ... to win you've got to be in.

"The big philosophical question for New Zealand rugby at the moment is to say: are we prepared to invest and back the legacy that is the Black Ferns for the next World Cup?"

Former Black Ferns coach Dale Atkins believes the NZRU pays lip service to the women's programme, without backing it up with any meaningful investment. Female players make up 10 per cent of the playing numbers in New Zealand, but the NZRU commits just 3 per cent of its total investment in the game to women's rugby.

That attitude is replicated around the country, with most provincial unions reluctant to commit their limited funds to their women's teams, as was illustrated two weeks ago when it emerged the Waikato Rugby Union refused to pay for their women's team to attend the national sevens tournament in Queenstown.

The Grass Ceiling series
Yesterday:
NZ women sidelined from governing roles

Today:
NZRU deal stalls over women
Rugby criticised as 'last bastion of chauvinism'
Mike Eagle: NZRU sees women's participation in rugby as essential to growing game

Tomorrow:
We profile the women who have broken down the barriers to play a leading role in sport's management.

Have your say: Why are women lacking in sports boardrooms

- NZ Herald

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