Black Fern Chelsea Alley caused a ruckus this week when she posted on Instagram about her less-than-easy ride as a rugby player.
Three words summed it up.
I. Am. Struggling.
In a frank and strident post, she outlined the ups and downs of her life as a semi-professional female rugby player. She plays for her club, her provincial side, the national team and, most recently, in a ground-breaking Super Rugby side. Long hours with little recompense all under the pressure of performance expectation. She works three jobs to sustain this, trains several times a week, is up early, home late, is constantly mentally and physically exhausted and, although she loves the game and the terrific highs it brings, she's openly questioning how personally sustainable this is with the resources available to her.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, her post was met by some quarters with the tried and true "if you don't like it, don't play" narrative. Or the oft-expressed and Neanderthal adage "take a concrete pill and harden up". Which I expect is part of the reason Alley was hesitant to post and slow to take up media invitations to explore her situation.
She didn't want to be seen as complaining, as she values and treasures every opportunity afforded to her in a long and impressive career. She understood that players before her had done harder yards to pave the way. But as it stands, it's tough for her. The balance is not there, and she told us.
She also told us she was grateful for what the game has done for her.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
But grateful doesn't put food on the table, grateful doesn't replenish lost sleep, grateful doesn't make up for time lost with friends and whānau. Grateful doesn't build changing sheds either, grateful doesn't continue to demand a more sustainable pathway for our young female athletes.
Alley started a conversation. She stuck her head above the parapet to draw attention to the more underwhelming and certainly less glamorous side of rugby representation and what it means to be a female player. She is right to do so. Without drawing attention to the dramatic lack of parity between the men's and women's game, how will change be initiated?
The women's game is in a huge growth mode. The numbers of female players is on the rise. The call for equality between genders in all walks of life has been growing in volume for years. The want for national sporting bodies to be seen to be appeasing the zeitgeist continues to grow. In a time where NZ Rugby has its heart set on selling the soul of the game to a corporate behemoth, surely now is the time for women like Alley to start making a racket?
Yes, increased investment in the women's game may be unpalatable to those who believe that if woman want to get a fair share of the revenue and resources, they need a product that puts bums on seats and eyeballs on devices. Long-term, that is the desired result, but in order to achieve it the women's game needs investment, a leg up if you will. There is no good reason for rugby to ignore a real area of growth. The money generated by the All Blacks and the men's game (if indeed any is at Super level) is surely for the game itself - fostering its development across all facets - not just something to line the pockets of the elite few with.
The rise and rise of acceptance and relevance of female team sport globally, a movement embraced by multinational advertisers, show no sign of abating.
By humbly accepting your lot and expressing gratitude for the little you have is no way to continue to pave the way for future generations to build a sporting career.
It's our national game. Sure, it's long been dominated by men, but as we constantly challenge the archaic dominance of society by males, doesn't that make Alley more relevant than ever?