England are set to become the first rugby-playing nation to share facilities and coaches between male and female sevens squads. An announcement yesterday revealed that the move will see the England women’s team move from their training facility at Bisham Abbey to share the state-of-the-art resources available to their male counterparts in Teddington.
Simon Amor, head of the England sevens, sees this as a trailblazing moment for the sport as the players will share analysis sessions, meals and occasional training sessions. He told The Telegraph that “the opportunity to share learnings across men’s and women’s programmes and resources is very exciting and I wouldn’t be surprised if more nations follow suit.” In a similar move, Saracens, one of the nation’s top rugby-union teams, have made a formal agreement to make the men and women’s teams more closely aligned.
The female players initially had reservations about the move, as the cost of living in Teddington was higher than their base in Buckinghamshire. When the women’s sevens were first contracted in 2014, their relocation costs were not covered. But Amor has confirmed the women will receive the support and compensation for relocation costs that their male counterparts were previously given.
It’s long overdue that the sevens are acknowledging that maybe if they put in the funding and effort, they’ll realise the women are just as capable – and just as marketable – as the men
The discrepancy is substantial between men and women’s rugby. While the sevens seem to be taking measures to close the gap on inequality, the same cannot be said for the England national RFU team, (those who play in the Six Nations). Their captain Dylan Hartley earns around £500,000 annually, and received around £116,000 in bonuses for the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2016. To put this into perspective, England men’s international players can make up to £22,000 per test match, while the women earn a mere £4,000. And this was only a recent development, after female players helped broker a deal alongside the Rugby Players’ Association to get paid for their match appearances.
Many put the inequality down to marketing, as men’s international rugby matches sell over 80,000 tickets, and women’s can sell as little as 1,500, meaning the women’s team often fly under the radar. But, while men receive full coverage on the BBC or Sky, women’s teams are often afforded just a 10-second clip at the end of a match, televised by an obscure channel from a pitch that looks indistinguishable from a local football club. It’s a clear discrepancy with clear repercussions – and shows very simply that not enough is being done to advertise women’s sport at the same level as the men.
This season is crucial for the sevens, who are allowed to compete in the Olympics, as it is the primary route of qualification for Tokyo 2020. Last season, both the women’s and men’s won Commonwealth Bronze, but they crashed out in the Rugby World Cup, whereas the men’s reached the final. If the women are achieving almost the exact same results as the men’s, it’s long overdue that the sevens are acknowledging that maybe if they put in the funding and effort, they’ll realise the women are just as capable – and just as marketable – as the men.