Women’s Rugby: Levelling the Playing Field

The lightning pace, the strength and stamina of the athletes, the skills involved in handling and kicking an inherently unruly and unpredictable ball, the short game time and swift turnaround allowing for multiple teams to compete in a single competition, and the creative costumes and carnival atmosphere in the stands, all make rugby sevens a highly entertaining sport.

The seven-player game dates back to the 1880s in Melrose, Scotland but it took until 1973 for the first officially sanctioned international sevens competition to be held, at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. Shortly after, in 1976, the Hong Kong tournament was initiated, then the Rugby World Cup Sevens was first contested in 1993 and the annual Rugby Sevens World Series in 1999. The women’s sevens game also slowly gained popularity and recognition through the years, being included at the Hong Kong tournament from 1997. The inaugural Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens was held in 2009, and in 2012 they joined the Sevens World Series. Both men and women competed when sevens was introduced to the Olympics in Rio in 2016, and the women joined the men for the first time at the Commonwealth Games this month on the Gold Coast, Australia.

While women’s presence at these competitions is excellent progress, they are still often seen as the second string to the men’s matches, as dictated by the usual format of the tournament. In the case of the Sevens World Series, the women’s teams do not compete in all the locations where the men’s contests are held. When the women do share a venue with the men, they are generally scheduled to play all their games on the first two days of the event, with the men’s matches played afterwards, being seen as the prestigious headliner matches. A similar format was used at the 2016 Rio Olympics. However, there are signs that this could be changing and Australia are leading the way. At the Sevens World Series event in Sydney this January, the men’s and women’s games were interspersed throughout the weekend, at each stage of the competition, with the women’s and men’s finals being played consecutively on the final evening. This format was replicated last weekend during the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. This makes a lot of sense practically in terms of giving players longer rests between matches, but also is a great boost in exposure for the women’s games, allowing a larger audience to appreciate that the level of skill with which the women play the game, and the excitement and entertainment value, is equal to that of the men’s game. It can only be hoped that the other series venues see the value of this format and follow suit. Unfortunately, this year the New Zealand Rugby Union, who prides itself as the spiritual home of all things rugby, neglected to even hold a women’s sevens competition at the Hamilton Sevens World Series event, citing funding limitations. This was a very disappointing decision and one which NZ rugby superstar and try scoring genius Portia Woodman was quick to condemn. 

The Australian Rugby Union are also currently leading the way in support for the women’s XVs game. While other unions, including England, are moving their funding away from the longer game and into sevens, Australia are looking to increase the exposure of women’s XVs. As well as voicing its interest in hosting the 2021 Women’s World Cup, they have established a new domestic competition, the Super W. This coming weekend sees the final of the inaugural Super W, in which five teams representing five states have played in this round robin tournament which has been broadcast by Fox Sport. While there are still ongoing issues surrounding players’ pay for this competition, the ARU, under its new CEO Raelene Castle, is determined that players should all be supported, with access to elite level training and sports science. Meanwhile, other developments are being made in terms of player salaries, with a collective bargaining agreement being reached with the ARU guaranteeing pay parity for sevens players and payment for the women’s national XV squad for the first time. A deal has also been struck in New Zealand for the national squad, the Black Ferns, with 30 women players being offered a base salary and contracts including a maternity policy. Black Fern Kendra Cocksedge, who also performs a development role for Canterbury Rugby, highlighted the importance of the deal in encouraging girls to take up the game and see a viable future in sports.

Interest in women’s rugby is increasing and will continue to do so with further exposure to wider audiences around the world. There has been an increase of 150% since 2013 in the number of girls and women playing the game and globally 25% of all players are now women. Meanwhile, those already playing at the highest level are beginning to receive recognition for their skills and hard work. The Black Ferns, winners of the Women’s World Cup for the 5th time last year, were awarded the 2017 rugby team of the year award, the first women’s team ever to receive the title. While the playing field may not yet be totally level, things are certainly moving in the right direction for women’s rugby and it has an exciting future ahead.

17th April 2018

Pay Disparity: Not Just Hollywood’s Problem

High profile examples from Hollywood are currently at the forefront in raising awareness of the issue of gender pay disparity. The leaking of the hacked Sony emails in December last year included the revelation that while the male stars of Oscar-winning movie American Hustle (namely Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper & Jeremy Renner) were contracted to receive 9% of the movie revenues, the female leads, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, received 7%. Deniers of gender pay disparity often cite differences in experience and qualifications as explanations of salary differences but this is a clear example of where that is not the case. Jennifer Lawrence came to American Hustle after carrying the hugely successful opener of the Hunger Games franchise and with an Oscar and a Golden Globe gracing her mantle for Silver Linings Playbook (as well as nominations for Winter’s Bone). Amy Adams’ resume contained 4 Oscar and 4 Golden Globe nominations. This is more nominations than Bale, Cooper and Renner held between them. Ultimately, all four main leads were nominated for both Oscars and Globes for their work in American Hustle but it was Lawrence and Adams that took home the Golden Globes.


The exposure of this particular disparity has led to other Hollywood leading ladies weighing in to further publicize the problem. Meryl Streep and Patricia Arquette have both made high-profile speeches highlighting pay inequalities, and Charlize Theron is the latest, this week stating in a magazine interview that she had to ask for a pay rise to ensure that she was receiving the same salary as her male counterpart, Chris Hemsworth, in the upcoming The Huntsman. But why should it be that women have to ask rather than just being able to rely on producers to pay equal salaries for equal work?

The answer to that lies in the persistance of attitudes that would seem at home in the 1950s, highlighted just last week with the immediate success of a newly-launched Tumblr blog called “Shit People Say to Women Directors” http://shitpeoplesaytowomendirectors.tumblr.com. Here, film industry workers anonymously contribute stories of their own experiences and encounters with sexism. One entry states:

“I was the only woman among the animators at one of the biggest media companies in the world. When I told my boss I should be paid the same as my 18 other male co-workers, I thought he was going to apologize for the “mistake”, instead he told me to get a rich boyfriend.”

The blog entries paint a picture of an industry which still believes that, in spite of 50% of cinemagoers being female, that there is no economic value in “women’s movies”, that women do not have the technical capabilities and experience to make movies, and that a woman’s place on a film crew is as eye-candy or a sexual object for male crew and executives.


A quick look on the Internet and in the media at recent commentary on this topic will reveal a surprising amount claiming that this is merely a Hollywood problem, not representative of other industries and workplaces. This is often combined with the well-versed claims that pay disparity doesn’t exist once you take into account women’s part-time hours, maternity leave and their career and educational choices. What these oversimplifications do not take into account is that there are cases of equally qualified men and women doing the same job for different salaries (not just Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale). Neither do they contribute to the discussion about which jobs our society value over others and that the jobs traditionally considered “female” roles, such as elderly care, early education and nursing, tend to have lower average salaries than jobs requiring similar levels of education in traditionally “male” sectors.

Outside of Hollywood, awareness is also currently being raised by projects such as “Less than 100%”, a not-for-profit pop-up shop in Pittsburgh selling locally produced goods, in which women only pay 76% of the retail price to reflect their lower income. http://lessthan100.org. Internationally, The World Economic Forum has produced a 400 page document entitled The Global Gender Gap Report 2014, which ranks countries’ gender equality in terms of economic, educational, health and political opportunities.

So other than Theron’s suggestion that women have to forcefully ask for parity, are there any other solutions being offered? There has been the introduction in some countries of legislation requiring salary transparency and this is certainly a start. Within business, last week Marc Benioff’s company Salesforce made headlines with his announcement that he was reviewing the records for his 16,000 employees to ensure gender pay parity. On Twitter, Benioff gave credit for the idea to two of his female executives, Leyla Seka and Cindy Robbins, who requested the review. He has also initiated a ‘Women Surge’ programme, searching out high-potential female employees, doing so after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”. http://www.businessinsider.com.au/leyla-seka-inspired-benioff-on-equal-pay-2015-4.

This is a debate which needs to be kept open and not swept aside.  Awareness of the issue needs to be raised with examples from all walks of life, not just Hollywood; perhaps through blogs similar to “Shit People Say to Women Directors”.  And until employers and legislators are shamed into action and parity is achieved, it would appear that women need to follow the example of Theron, Seka and Robbins and keep on asking.


American Hustle Pay Disparity

Global Gender Gap Report 2014

May 8th 2015