Women in Rugby Aotearoa’s open letter to those seeking NZ sport’s top job

Women in Rugby Aotearoa, via Locker Room, wants to know what the two candidates to chair NZ Rugby, Stewart Mitchell and Bailey Mackey, intend to do to back the one part of the game experiencing a boom in numbers

Dear Chair candidates,

You have indicated your intention to run for the position of chair on New Zealand Rugby’s board of directors, taking the lead at a pivotal time in our sport’s history.

We write to you on behalf of Women in Rugby Aotearoa, the independent and trusted voice of women’s rugby, to ensure our community’s view is represented in the discussions of the future of our game.

Honey Hireme-Smiler takes on a bevy of Wallaroos, playing for the Black Ferns.

Simon Watts/Getty Images

Honey Hireme-Smiler takes on a bevy of Wallaroos, playing for the Black Ferns.

With the opportunity of a new Super Rugby competition on the horizon, the boost in visibility our sport will receive both through the Black Fern 7s participation in Tokyo and in hosting the World Cup as well as the potential of an increase in funding available through the proposed Silver Lake deal, we would like to know what your plan is to harness these opportunities to get women’s rugby over the advantage line.

* Black Ferns gain new perspective on haka as Rugby World Cup comes into focus
* New dates confirmed for postponed Rugby World Cup in New Zealand
* Women don’t need men stating the bleeding obvious about the state of the game

As you know, one in five players in this country are female and we represent the fastest growing participation numbers, with a 40 percent increase between 2016 and 2019 alone. A growing number of women are taking on roles off field as well, as referees, administrators, coaches, board members from the grassroots to your boardroom table.

Women in Rugby Aotearoa strategic advisory group members, co-founder Kate Rawnsley (left), Alice Soper, Honey Hireme-Smiler, Sharleen Nathan and chair Traci Houpapa (right).


Women in Rugby Aotearoa strategic advisory group members, co-founder Kate Rawnsley (left), Alice Soper, Honey Hireme-Smiler, Sharleen Nathan and chair Traci Houpapa (right).

However, we are still far behind in terms of investment in resources, pathways and wages.

A survey we conducted late last year found 66 percent of players who participated in the Farah Palmer Cup had to take time off work to do so. The exhibition match between the nib Blues and Waitomo Chiefs was a great display of athleticism and was also played without financial compensation.

Many members of the public were surprised to learn, through social media statements last week, that many of our top performing Black Ferns and Farah Palmer Cup players still hold down multiple jobs to support their rugby careers.

It is taking a toll on our athletes physically, as we cannot afford the rest time to properly recover, emotionally, carrying weight of the hopes of our community forward and financially there needs to be a more tangible and equitable commitment to women in rugby professionally and in terms of resourcing and support at all levels to enable it to grow.

Looking at the school girls game, an independent report commissioned by New Zealand Rugby said “The girls’ game, on the other hand, is experiencing strong growth in numbers which is generating a separate set of challenges in resourcing, coaching and acceptance within schools”.

This statement was in relation to those at high school but rings true to those in our club sides. Those same themes around adequate coaching, resources and acceptance proving obstacles to grassroots participation.

We want to know what your plans are to tackle these challenges. How do you intend to:

  • Redesign our sport for female participation – from facilities to attitudes, how will you ensure rugby is a game for all?
  • Strengthen pathways and address regional variance – how can we ensure all talent is provided opportunity to thrive?
  • Support and resource the growth in women in rugby – our participation numbers grow on the field, so too do the number of women who want to contribute off it – how will you increase diversity in ‘off field’ roles?

Yours Sincerely,

Traci Houpapa MNZM

Honey Hireme-Smiler MNZM (chair)

Sharleen Nathan

Alice Soper

Kate Rawnsley – Co-founder

*Women in Rugby Aotearoa is a collective of current and former players, administrators, managers, coaches, directors and volunteers involved in rugby. We are passionate about growing our game and ensuring all women, young and old, have a positive experience in our sport, both on and off the field with the purpose to increase this engagement.

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