In UFC and Tennis, women compete at the same elite competitions as men therefore I think it is time Rugby League offered the same opportunities.
For the 2016 Women’s Rugby League Challenge Cup Final, Leigh Miners Rangers played Thatto Heath St Helens in what looked like an empty stadium, a far cry from the men’s final which was played to a crowd of 76,235 at Wembley stadium. How are we going to find our sports next Rhonda Rousey or Serena Williams if they play in near isolation away from the men’s game?
Thankfully we will see progression later this year when the Women’s Rugby League World Cup Final is played as a double header alongside the men’s final at Brisbane Stadium on 2 December 2017. Still, our governing bodies need to take inspiration from UFC events where athletes with a lower profile are given top billing to create more awareness for the sports lesser known stars.
Sam Burgess, will no doubt be the highest profile star at the rugby league world cup, but does he really need any more promotion?
Our media has a clear bias towards offering the best coverage for the top matches whilst all the others ploughed through in quick succession like an afterthought. In the short term, it makes absolute financial sense to do this but in the long run it is only going to damage our game further. Rugby League cannot keep growing if we keep promoting the same players along with the same teams, so we need the big broadcasters to get behind clubs and players that could really do with their support as opposed to maintaining the status quo.
Sport is one of the final bastions of social mobility for people from my background and we need to make the most of it. Men in Rugby League have over 100 years of professional support to make a living as an athlete. Women have been excluded or left on the sidelines for large parts of that, so we have a lot of ground to make up for this disadvantage. It is going to take our gentleman to put our ladies first for a change, or at the very least we should openly advocate for equal opportunities.
Imagine if we gave the Women’s Rugby League World Cup Final top billing this year and we could possibly see a new set of fans tuning in to watch these games. What if the female captains of England and Australia were given equal airtime as their male counterparts?
I don’t know the standards of Women’s Rugby League but it is clear they have not been given the same training opportunities and support as men to succeed in this sport. Stanningley Ladies and Oulton Raidettes play in the same city as Leeds Rhinos, but this current generation of women playing Rugby League will never get to play in front of the big crowds on a regular basis like the men from Leeds no matter how good they become.
Personally, I’d like to see a future where men and women play on the same team but during different halves of the match. This innovation could be trialled out during pre-season friendlies to begin with whilst standards are still being raised for the women’s game. However, in a few decades’ time, I can’t see why we can’t have men competing in one half and woman in the other for Super League or NRL games. It might even be best to trial this out in the challenge cup to begin with but there’s a lot of work which needs to be done to make this future possible.