I dreamt of a career in rugby, now I’m just holding on as a fan

Dear ARU,

I tried to write this a few weeks ago but decided I was too emotional to make a reasoned statement. Now, with the inclusion of Kurtley Beale in the end of year tour and his playing off the bench in the test against Ireland, I can no longer just let the world go by.

Let me give you a little back ground on myself. I have been watching the Wallabies play since 1980, the year that we got a television at home. I remember seeing news stories of the Ella brothers, the 1984 grand slam tour, the heart breaking loss to the French in the quarter finals of the 1987 Rugby World Cup, the win in 1991 and again in 1999. ‘That’ kick by John Eales to win the Bledisloe Cup and then the kick by JOC in Hong Kong to beat the All Blacks for the first time in a long time. The heartbreaking losses to England in the 2003 RWC final and then again in the 2007 RWC quarter finals. I attended every game of the RWC 2003 that was played in Brisbane, no matter who was playing. After this I made a commitment that I wanted to be THERE when next the Wallabies hoisted Bill aloft. For that reason I have attended every Wallaby RWC game plus a few extras in 2007 and 2011 and will be there again in 2015.

During this time I also became a Reds fan. I was one of those handful of people who sat in the crowd in the 2000’s watching loss after demoralising loss hoping that everything, someday, would fall into place. Celebrating in 2011 when once again we (because I feel part of the Reds) got to hold the Super Rugby trophy above our heads and say “Yeah! We did it!”. I continue to buy my season ticket to the Reds & drive the 6 hours round trip for each of the home games in hope that we will be there again.

In 1988 I acted as strapper/water-girl to my school’s First XV. From 1989 to 1993 I supported my College and University team and even had a few training sessions with the ladies team. In 1996 I started running the line as first aid for the local club in the place I was living and working at the time. Driving 100’s of kilometres of a weekend to attend games all over North Western Queensland.

When I moved I found another club and am now on the committee and do whatever I can to keep the club afloat. This year that club, the Toowoomba Rangers, won the Risdon Cup for the first time since 2006. During the last few years we have struggled for players. One of our away trips involves a 10 hour round trip. We hire buses, scrimp and save and raise money to support some of our players who can’t afford pay their subs. Some of our players have even been known to play all three grades in the one day because injury and other events have conspired and left us short of players. As you can imagine this means that a C grade player ends up playing in an A grade match. Just because it is what the club needs.

I have sat on the ground holding the head of an 18 year old boy waiting for the ambulance after a ruck went wrong. I have sat talking to another, reassuring him when he suffered concussion and needed to be taken to the hospital. I have assisted in the treatment of a man who had his shoulder broken into 8 pieces. I have reassured parents, girlfriends, wives and teammates when injuries have occurred and they don’t understand what is happening. I have sat and talked to girlfriends and wives explaining what the game was about and why they should let their ‘boys’ play. I have accepted the thanks of parents, partners, siblings and teammates for these things while just regarding it as ‘my job’. All of these people treat me with respect.

One of the things that really touched me this year happened on the 8th of November at a club dinner. This was not our normal Presentation night, it was an extra for when we were able to gather most of the A grade players together. After the dinner the Risdon cup was being passed around. Some of the team then sought me out, handed me the cup and instructed me to drink. Initially I refused as I was not strictly part of the “team”. The reply was basically – “Bullshit! You are part of the team. Drink.” This is when I knew, as a girl/woman/female with none of the ‘traditional’ ties, that I had been accepted into this club.

What do I mean by ‘traditional ties’? I am not a mother, wife, girlfriend or sister to any of the players. I am woman who loves the game of rugby and wants to do their bit for the code. Yes I have friends in the club. That is how I ended up at Rangers and not one of the others in the district, but I do not have a ‘relationship’, so to speak, within the club.

On top of this involvement I also contribute to a number of websites, online forums and social media platforms commenting on anything rugby. I have become a reference point for some of my friends if they want to know anything about the game. Due to the number of years I have been interested and involved, and my pathological need to educate myself, I believe that I have gained a rather good and in-depth knowledge of rugby union.

Where am I going with all of this? Well, I have a small complaint to make about the treatment of women within this great game of ours.

Now. I say “ours” because no matter what you think about your (the ARU’s) role in the administration and management of this game, you and the other governing bodies around the world do not own the game. The people who spend hours of their time (mostly for free I might add) and many of their hard earn dollars supporting all levels of the game from juniors and schools, through clubs, to Super Rugby, to the NRC, to international level, own this game. Not only in Australia, but around the world.

So what would I like to say?

For a few years now I have thought that I would love to work within the administration and management of rugby as a career. I believe that I have a set of skills that would be useful and advantageous to the governing bodies along with a passion to act in the best interests of the game. But this is not a job application. This is to tell you why I am now seriously reconsidering if I should aim for a position within your organisation.

I have worked for many years in ‘traditionally’ male industries. All of which are changing as the years progress with, I believe, none of them being able to be labelled ‘male’ anymore. Of course attitudes vary from person to person, but education and legislation has encouraged those attitudes to change. I have gone from being one of 1 or 2 women in a room of 100 at conferences to being one of about 30 to 40. From being treated as a novelty, to being respected for the job I do and the skills and experience I have.

I wish I could say the same about my experience within rugby.

Don’t get me wrong. At a grassroots club level the guys are great. I am treated as I should be. The same as any other person who is using what skills, talent and knowledge they have to improve and maintain what we have. Hell, at a grassroots level we are thankful for any and all help that comes our way.

It is when you start stepping up the rungs of authority that attitudes take a dramatic turn for the worse. I am back to being treated as a novelty and in a lot of cases an inconvenience. My knowledge and experience is not valued and, again, a lot of the time dismissed.

This may be just because I am seen as a “fan” rather than being associated with my gender, but, having watched the behaviour of people within a number of different groups and settings I would have to disagree. I have had to deal with the “run along little girl” behaviour far too often in my life not to be able to recognise it at 50 paces. It was this attitude that has motivated me to do the theory test for referees and start my coaching qualification. Not because I want to referee or coach, but because I feel I have needed to prove the knowledge that I have.

Up until recently I was willing to deal with this and work my butt off to get a chance at what I wanted in my life. Be the person who changes the attitudes rather than just a person who benefits from the change. I have done it before. I am willing to do it again.

I also have a pretty thick skin. Developed over years of having groups of boys saying or doing inappropriate things because, in most cases, they have simply forgotten I am present. I point out what they have done wrong and move on. Educate and reinforce. I have also had men within our club take others to task when they feel that I have been slighted.

But now I think I am changing my mind. I think that the problem and attitudes are too big and ingrained for me to take on.

I am willing to accept that the reason I have not been interviewed for any of the positions I have applied for is that the applications I have submitted have not been good enough. I am willing to accept that the reason I don’t get a letter or e-mail acknowledging my application is that the organisations are inundated with applications and it is difficult (although I still believe that it is rude). I am also willing to accept that the responsible person does not have time to give me feedback on my application when I have requested it. But I have heard some anecdotal evidence that may indicate that this is not correct.

What I am not willing to accept is apparent disregard the ARU and other governing bodies, as organisations, have when it comes to the treatment of women within this sport. A sport that I, as a woman, love and want to succeed and in this I am sure I am not alone.

I realise that as a person on the outside of the recent Kurtley Beale saga I do not have all of the facts, so if you disagree with what I am about to say then this might be a place to start. That is, tell me, us, the facts that we do not know.

What Mr Beale did, from what has been reported, was disgusting, deplorable and bordering on the illegal. If I had done something similar in my place of work I would be now unemployed, with no reference, and find it very hard to find a job in the industry, in the short term at the very least.

Yes, I did read where the ARU had recommended, or wanted, his contract terminated, however the ‘Independent Tribunal’ came to a different conclusion. I want to know why. What on god’s-green-earth could the mitigating factors have been to allow a continuation of the contract in the face of such a despicable act?

As I mentioned before, my friends always come to me to ask questions about what is happening in rugby. I am sure that I do not need to tell you what the questions have been over the past few weeks. I have friends and colleagues from South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, and all of the home nations, who have asked me to explain what has happened. Well, I can’t. Can you?

So, do I hold a ‘grudge’ against the coach for selecting Mr Beale to join the end of year tour and sit on the bench against Ireland? No. I have a difference of opinion with him based on the form of Mr Beale, but he has picked a player who is available that he believes should be picked.

I do have an issue with the fact that the governing body, or an agent there-of, has allowed the situation to be such that this player is eligible for selection for this tour.

How many chances is Mr Beale to have to drag the game through the mud? Let’s face it, this is not his first offence. Was this taken into account when the decision was made? Is it being taken into account with the negotiation of his contract for 2015? These are only two of the myriad of questions that I, and others, would really like answers to.

We are told frequently of the tenuous position that Australian rugby is in. Do you think that this episode is going to help or hinder the ability of rugby union in this country to attract players, sponsors and fans through the gate to provide the money that we all so desperately need to survive? I have my opinion, but I would like to know if it is at all like those held within the ARU.

There have been many people over the last few weeks who have made statements that they can no longer support rugby. Some in any form, others just the Wallabies. How much they stick to this is yet to be determined. I am yet to make up my mind what sort of protest I will mount. I don’t think I can stop supporting a game in which I have invested so much time and emotion, but I can stop supporting the management and administration who I believe are fairly and squarely to blame for the mess we now find ourselves in.

This is not the only issue that I believe has been poorly handled. There are many others. But this is the one that has got me wondering why I do what I do in a rugby context.

I would like to point out that as fans we are stakeholders in the game. Very important stakeholders, as without us the game will wither and die a lot quicker than it is now. I know, with all the business acumen that is present in the ARU, deep down you know this. I just wonder how much you all care.

Please feel free to engage with said fans if things have really got to the level that, from the outside looking in, they appear to have. Otherwise, I fear that even the rusted on fans such as myself will start to leave, or there will be no one to replace us when we die.

I know this particular boat has sailed and there is little that can be done about the fact that there are a number of people walking away from the game because of this exact issue and how it was handled. I guess what I am hoping for is that you will see that the decisions you make will/are effecting us all and I don’t know how much longer we can hold on.


Yours Sincerely,

A very crestfallen rugby fan.



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