Women in a Wruck

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2017 saw the launch of the inaugural AON Rugby 7’s Women’s National University series. A fantastic development for Australian women in rugby, having the opportunity to travel inter-state and compete in a four-tournament series, jam-packed of talent development and to much excitement Olympic Gold medallists! 
The ARU agreed to include at least two Australian Sevens players in each of the nine university teams, across the country.

Pictured in the tweet from Aussie 7s, representing the Macquaire University Sydney Rays, is in fact myself! As a rookie to Rugby and Rugby 7s, only playing for one season. I took a dive in the deep end, learning to play something totally different (and totally fun!) after competing in Track and Field for the majority of my life and fortunately the opportunity of representing my country a few times over. This series was such a fantastic way to immerse myself in Rugby Union, as I was given the valuable opportunity to learn and develop as a player.

The Sydney Rays turned their program into a professional, contract-based team. Indulging in all the professional aspects of a National union team. We were very spoilt with experienced 7s coach Nathan McMmahon taking lead, assistant coach Australian Rugby 7s Olympian James Stannard and Strength and Conditioning king Tim Rowland. 

Tim provided a state of the art strength program for the Rookies, like myself who were new to Union. He gave us the skill development to mould into confident rugby women, not to be reckoned with on the field. Additionally we had a gruelling, but necessary two-day training camp, at the Australian Rugby 7S HQ, Sydney Academy of Sport Narrabean; prior to the first round for the AON series.

We were also given team building days, including goal-setting and personal development, game day and training video analysis tools, access to recovery systems post-game including Cryotherapy, plunge pools and pool recovery sessions. Experienced on-site physiotherapists were implemented for training and game day needs. We were even given a boots sponsor from ”X-Blades,” which are the most comfortable, durable footy boots I’ve ever owned! And to top it off, an insightful team manager, keeping us all in the loop.

The series kicked off in icy Tasmania on 25-26th August, our Rays women taking out the silver medal for the tournament. The next series was on home turf 8-9th September, at Macquaire University Sport Fields. Unfortunately we missed out on a medal-match and finished fourth. The final two tournaments were in maroon territory playing at University of Queensland 15th-16th September and Bond University HQ 29th-30th. With two silver medals to add to the collection, it was enough for the Macqauire Rays to finish bronze on the overall medal tally, behind the champions University of Queensland and silver medallists Bond University.

In my eighteen years, of elite track and field, this program was something Athletics can take a leaf from. I felt supported, welcomed and indulged in a wealth of knowledge on how to improve my rugby performance, quickly and efficiently. It was also incredibly insightful and motivating to have Olympian Chloe Dalton and Australian representative Dominique De Toit, playing alongside our Rays.

I was lucky enough to feature in the ”women-doing-wonderful-things-in-sport” podcast by Mary Konstantopoulos ”Ladies Who League,” Prior to the AON Series kick-off. Take a listen to this passionate woman’s guide to Rugby League and celebrating all things happening in the Australian sporting world.

Ladies Who League Podcast

Thanks to this Rugby series, I was lucky enough to be a part of a national program. To have met (and tackled) women of all backgrounds, of all different levels of experience and of determination and strength. I could not be more excited for the future of Rugby 7s in Australia. With the amount of talent I got to witness on that paddock, we are in for a few more gold medals yet, Australia!
To keep up to date with The Sydney Rays, especially ahead of the first Women’s NRC 15-aside series, check out: http://www.raysrugby.com.au

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Can you promote yourself as a female athlete without selling yourself?

It’s no secret that millennials take social media very seriously. But nowadays professional athletes have a duty of care in the way they promote themselves via social media.
Athletes use platforms such as Instagram or Facebook to boost their image and share their stories, making them more attractive to brands, sponsors and viewers; not to mention bringing in extra dollars and credibility into the world of athletics along the way. Some athletes choose to do this with humility while others choose to use their physical appearance to attract an audience, rather than their athletic ability.
At the recent Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, Hawaiian John Florence won a prize of USD$100,000. This came after Sally Fitzgibbons earned her 1st place winnings of USD$60,000 the day before. Both athletes surfed the same break, within the same conditions, at the same time. The discrepancies do not stop there. According to the most current Forbes The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes List the top 39 paid athletes in the world, are ALL men. With Serena Williams being the only female athlete in the top 87 of the list, coming in at #40.
Does this infuriate yourself, like it does the women reading this discovery? This begs the question: Why are female athletes less valued then their male counterparts? In almost every professional sport. Sexualisation, plays a big part.
Some women may feel the pressure because they are not receiving equal pay to men in the same sport. This can result in no longer viewing athletic achievement as a priority and distorts the perception of the female athlete, who then may choose then to use their appearance to gain social media presence and become more influential. This in turn allows them to earn more in endorsements and sponsorships, than relying on their performance in their chosen field.

Comparing social media statistics between the current #1 and 5-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore’s 466K Instagram followers, Alana Blanchard’s impressive 1.8 million followers, and Ellie Jean Coffee’s strong 784k followers. Why does Blanchard and Coffee’s popularity far exceed Gilmore’s? Maybe because the two are notorious for their faces seen in every Rip Curl or Billabong campaign (respectively) as well as their Instagram filled with selfies in glamorous, tropical locations. Yet neither compete on the WSL tour, placing a long way past 100th in the rankings, or are nearly as athletically gifted as Gilmore. A quick scroll through their feeds and you’ll notice a big difference, in comparing the current world champion, who’s feed showcases videos of her recent tubes and training sessions, the others choose to showcase the latest bikinis, captured at a strategic angle.

www.instagram.com/stephaniegilmore

 

www.instagram.com/elliejeancoffey

“Some girls are definitely self-sexualizing, they know what the market is and what gets the best response. In the culture of surfing, sex sells. They’re making a lot of money out of it.” Scott Atheron, Surf Coach, Manly Surf School.

This doesn’t apply to surfing alone. The current fastest women in the world, is Shelly-Anne Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica. After winning an Olympic Games in 2012 and being the current reigning world 100m champion, you think she would be a household name? With only 211k Instagram followers to her name, the world’s fastest female was paid US$60,000 for her world title win in 2015. In comparison to Mr Usain Bolt, undoubtedly the world most successful sprinter and known to almost all people who own a television, around the world. He attains 6.7Million Instagram followers, is number 32 on Forbes Highest-Paid Athletes list and for the same race, at the same championships was paid US -$120,000 for his 2015 World Title, in comparison to Shelly-Ann’s $60K.

This necessity for over exposure, it seems, is growing the gap for women in sport. Tim Wigmore, of NewStatemen Sport, has this to say about the matter. ‘’The roots of this discrepancy lie in the birth of modern sport, 150 years ago. Women’s treatment in sport has always been a manifestation of wider gender inequality and, as sports evolved and professionalised, became self-perpetuating. The huge funding disparity between male and female sport means that women have had fewer opportunities to play sport, have suffered from inadequate coaching and facilities compared with those enjoyed by men, and have been paid meagre sums, even for playing international sport. This has damaged the quality of sport.’’ 

 We are left with the issue , in this social media, millennial world, if women want to cover that gap, they must be perceived, first and foremost, as athletes and not as Instagram models. If sexuality is the main qualifier for popularity in women’s professional sport, then women’s sport will not be seen for what it is; a sport, rather than a glorified modelling industry.