On Wednesday, 13th January, the organizers of the Women's Six Nations tournament made the announcement that instead of running alongside the men's tournament as scheduled, the women's games would be postponed to an as-yet to be determined date, "later this spring or early summer". The women's tournament was cited as being more difficult to deliver safely amid the Covid pandemic than the men's, due to the fact many of the women's team are not full time professionally employed by either their clubs or countries, and have day jobs that they must return to. The press release did not offer information on testing protocols for the women's game in the participating countries, or if those testing protocols differ from that of their male counterparts.
This is, of course, disappointing news to many women's rugby fans, though for most not entirely surprising, given the recent wave of infections with the new strain of Covid-19. Whilst it does highlight again the gap between the men's and women's game, the postponement of the women's Six Nations could offer some potential advantages. The Guinness deal with the men's tournament doesn't extend to the women's, leaving a gap -and time- for a title sponsor to get involved and step up to a huge marketing opportunity. The staggering of tournaments also allows there to be no scheduling conflicts as there have been in the past, which previously forced fans to choose between watching a men's game or a women's game. That same comflict can afflict broadcasters as well, who now would not have to make a decision on which game to air or stream- now, they can simply broadcast them all, and properly announce and market each. There's also a hope that this delay mean's the women's games would not be relocated to second choice locations (as the men's games would have been played at the first choice stadiums concurrently), and could also benefit by being some of the first rugby games played that spectators could be allowed to attend, further increasing spectator appeal. Of course, all of these benefits hinge completely on actions being taken in this time to fully capitalize on the opportunity of staggered tournaments offers the women's game- and we can all help make that happen by making our voices heard. But before we go there- let's start at the beginning.
Sky Sports published a very neutral and professional post on Instagram announcing the postponement. It didn't take long for comment after comment to pop up below the post, from what seemed to be male followers, spouting negativity and general discontent that anything about women's sport had been reported on. The comments were quick, defensive, and numerous. It was a little shocking to see, even though in some ways it shouldn't have been- female rugby players, and female athletes in general, are more than used to online trolling, bullying, and general disrespect to their sporting careers on the basis of their gender alone. One only has to look back only a few months to the Ireland Jersey scandal and the #Iamenough movement to see that truth play out in recent history. That doesn't make it okay, of course- far from it- but it sadly doesn't make it abnormal.
When reading these comments, we did see a glimmer of hope- replies countering the negativity, and plenty of them. Many of the replies, especially to the comments that were in the vein of "who cares" or "no one cares" garnered messages from people who simply said "I care". It got us thinking- there are SO many of us that care about women's rugby. What if we ALL said something? These negative bullying comments bely a wider attitude that is destructive and restrictive to our sport in so many ways, and the narrative that female sport is unpopular is just factually incorrect. So what if everyone who cared piped up, and said something- in a measurable way, that quantifiably demonstrated the size of this market?
With that, the #icare movement was born. Within hours, the hashtag had been picked up and shared by a wide range of players, across dozens of countries. Since then, some of the biggest names in our sport, both female and male, have lent their voices to the cause, and it's been picked up by news outlets across the UK. So many of you have reached out and gotten involved, and there are hundreds of conversations happening across the world as a result. THANK YOU. This is the power of social media, and of the women's rugby community- we can come together and be heard in a real way.
The #icare movement is growing- and we hope to keep the momentum going., because leading into this Six Nations tournament, and later on in the year as we approach the World Cup, there's just too much opportunity for the women's game for us NOT to. The amount of advantage we could play here is truly immense, and we are going to be rolling out community initiatives over the coming weeks to ensure we can all do our part as global members of this truly gigantic wrugby community to see those advantages get maximum meters past the gain line.
See what we did there? Thought you'd like it.
Thank you, wrugby. You're all why we care. Keep #icare going, keep having those conversations that result from it, and stay tuned for the next steps.
With you, always.