Women’s sport is unquestionably on the rise, both in terms of its acceptance and popularity.
But with this also comes an increased awareness of how unequally male and female athletes are still often treated.
No better was this shown that just a few weeks ago when kit manufacturer Canterbury launched the new Irish rugby strip. The three individuals wearing the men’s version were current international stars, grins ablaze and all rippling biceps and pecs.
The women’s kit however was depicted by three models who, quite frankly, couldn’t have looked more disinterested in the product they were trying to sell.
While it was a positive step that the new kits were advertised in the same tweet (this doesn’t happen often at all), it was also a real slap in the face for the women’s team. It was like it was being suggested that their current stars were not appealing or attractive enough to promote the kit, that sex appeal is greater than international status.
The company on Twitter were quickly called out by Perception Agency founder and Wasps player Florence Williams, sparking a huge backlash that saw the formation of the #IAmEnough campaign.
Over the next few days social media was awash with players, supporters, parents, photographers, men and women all throwing their support behind women’s rugby; it was incredibly empowering.
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE 🇮🇪
2 Jersey Launches
3 International Players
3 Profiles lifted
1 HUGE Opportunity Missed
By not using the female players to market THEIR OWN KIT an opportunity to build recognition, fan bases & creating role models for future generations is lost. pic.twitter.com/TM75AH5rKr
— Florence Williams (@FlorenceW94) August 22, 2020
This was especially the case for current Scotland international players Rhona Lloyd and Sarah Bonar, who also host the Women Who Sport podcast.
Speaking on the SportSpiel podcast, Lloyd said: “It was absolutely amazing to see the support. For Canterbury to see the mistake they’ve made and own up to it is amazing. It’s opened up some fantastic conversations.
“What I loved about it is that it wasn’t just female rugby players speaking up and saying this isn’t ok. It was parents, photographers, male rugby players and people outside of our community who could recognise that this isn’t ok.
“It was a really cool couple of days and it also shows how quick change can happen. On Saturday the kit was announced and within a week Canterbury had changed their policy and a really positive movement has come off the back of it.”
For Bonar, the Twitter storm stirred up by the #IAmEnough movement also clarified in her mind just how far women’s sport has come in recent times.
The Gloucester Hartpury second row said: “The support that it’s got shows that people are ready for more women’s sport, more women’s rugby. The acknowledgement and the backing is quite a positive thing to take away from it.
“A lot of people are recognising that we are enough, let’s get more backing and see if we can close that equality gap.”
— SportSpiel #WomensFootballDiary ⚽️ (@SportSpielPod) September 7, 2020
But how exactly do we go about that?
Despite the positives that came out of the situation, it is still frustrating to many that the ridiculous stereotypes surrounding women who play sport – that they are all butch and manly and therefore unattractive – are still being banded about.
While many female athletes now just brush these comments off, it is still a worry to Bonar and Lloyd about the effect it may have on young girls looking to enter the world of sport for the first time.
However rugby does offer one quality that many other sports don’t; anyone can play and excel, no matter what your body type.
That’s something the duo believe the sport should focus on more to promote itself, especially when it comes to encouraging young girls to take up a game that is still perceived to be a male-only environment.
“The overarching thing was that it’s not about looks; it’s about how much effort it takes to wear an international jersey and it’s about showing girls that they can play for their country and in these top teams,” explained Loughborough Lightning winger Lloyd.
“It does not matter how you look; there will be a rugby team you will be an asset too. That’s so unique in our sport and we probably don’t appreciate it enough. In rugby there’s no limitations on what you can look like to do the job on the pitch.”
This was a statement echoed by Bonar, who said: “I’ve turned up to job interviews and things and they’ve said ‘I didn’t expect you to look like that as a rugby player’. Again it doesn’t bother me but it’s enough to make me think ‘what did you expect?’
“It’s the only team sport that I’ve come across where all shapes and sizes are welcome. Actually you need different abilities, different speeds, strengths in a team to make it a good team. We need to draw upon that and make people active that way, especially young girls within school.
“The game’s moved on. I guess back in the day people used to think male rugby players would be huge but the game’s moved on and the women’s game has too.”
#IAmEnough and I’ve had enough.
I’ve had enough of small-minded people saying women’s sport is boring. Enough of being told I look too muscly/manly. Enough of people putting down women for playing a “male” sport. pic.twitter.com/P3xqArbnjE
— Akinà (@akinagondwe) August 27, 2020