The Ireland team stand for the national anthem before the 2021 Rugby World Cup European Qualifying Tournament against Italy in Italy last September
We write to you as a deeply discouraged group of current and former Irish women’s rugby players having sadly lost all trust and confidence in the IRFU and its leadership after historic failings.
The aim of this letter is to seek your support now to enable meaningful change for all levels of the women’s game in Ireland from grassroots to green shirts.
We write in the wake of a series of recent disappointments for the international team, on and off the field, but ultimately recent events simply reflect multiple cycles of substandard commitment from the union, inequitable and untrustworthy leadership, a lack of transparency in the governance and operation of the women’s game both domestically and at international level, and an overall total lack of ambition about what it could achieve.
In 2014, the Irish XV team finished the season ranked fourth in the world, having won a Six Nations Grand Slam the year before. This triggered the beginning of a new World Cup cycle and new leadership within Irish rugby with David Nucifora and Anthony Eddy overseeing the women’s programme.
The end of this cycle ended in bitter disappointment as the team finished eighth in their home World Cup in 2017, crashing out in the pool stages.
In response, the IRFU produced an action plan for the game with a number of high level targets. However we find ourselves at the end of 2021 with those plans in disarray and with a large majority of those targets missed, including the XV team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup and the sevens team’s failure to qualify for the Olympics.
Notwithstanding the challenges of the pandemic, these facts represent significant failure.
This is not just a recent issue. At the end of every World Cup cycle in the Irish women’s game, there has been a review.
None of these reviews have ever been made public, with the IRFU cherry picking a handful of findings to present to the public. Many of us have felt that the range of stakeholders asked to take part in these reviews have not always reliably represented the game well enough to capture accurate, independent data and insight – neither do all of us feel fully confident that the information submitted has been factual and designed to act in the best interest of the women’s game.
There are now two ongoing reviews – one into the failure to qualify for the World Cup, and a second looking at the implementation of the current ‘Women in Rugby Action Plan’ which was due to run till 2023 and which covers all aspects of the game across Ireland.
Despite there being well-qualified independent leads running these, we have no faith that in the end that these will do anything significantly different to all those which have gone before and therefore the overarching objective of this letter is to ask for your help to intervene in these processes to make them genuinely transparent and meaningful.
A large group of current players, including some who have recently retired, have collectively submitted a more detailed overview for the World Cup Qualifier review, which we are happy to privately share with you.
This gives greater context to some of the current disillusionment but there is a wider and historic element to all of this and that is why we are asking for your support with the following.
– We ask that you meet with the IRFU to confirm appropriate guarantees of meaningful change so the women’s game can move forward positively.
– We ask that you request oversight of the ongoing reviews; help guarantee the findings are transparent and help ensure that they maintain their independence.
– We ask for your support in gaining assurances that both the findings and the recommendations of these reviews will be made fully available to the players and that relevant details and full recommendations are published publicly and following that, that leadership with the necessary authority and appropriate governance is put in place alongside a serious action plan and new targets to help move the game forward.
Unresolved, the many challenges facing the women’s game at all levels have the potential to have a significant knock-on effect not just at the top end but also on the grassroots game. There are increasing numbers of young girls taking up rugby across Ireland but the IRFU’s failure to create meaningful pathways significantly impacts the quality of the system and structures these community players are experiencing.
All of this is happening at a time when women’s rugby around the world is on a massive upward trajectory. Playing numbers, TV audiences, crowds and investments are on the rise but we fear Ireland will be left further and further behind and the opportunity for growth will disappear at a time when surely we ought to be promoting as many sporting opportunities for women and girls across the country as possible.
We appreciate that your roles oversee all sport across the country and these are specific issues, but we have tried to work constructively with the IRFU for decades and much of the same problems persist.
Many of us have been part of previous attempts via private intervention to work constructively with the IRFU to help them to understand how the players have felt over many years and to support them to make changes which would create the right environment for women’s rugby at all levels to thrive. These have failed and so we feel we have to resort to requesting your help and to publishing this letter.
We want to make clear that a small number of current players who either work for the IRFU or have playing contracts with them were not asked to sign this letter, for obvious reasons.
We have always believed that with the right structures, processes and support that Ireland could become a leading women’s rugby nation, providing opportunities for everyone at all levels, and even with all of the recent challenges, we are certain that with your support we can come out of this better and stronger.
We thank you for your ongoing support
Ciara Griffin; Lynne Cantwell; Fiona Coghlan; Grace Davitt; Claire Molloy; Paula Fitzpatrick; Mairead Kelly; Laura Guest; Ailish Eagn; Lauren Day; Allison Miller; Marie Louise Reilly; Jen Murphy; Heather O’Brien; Deirdre O’Brien; Shannon Houston; Ruth O’Reilly; Nikki Caughey; Stacey Lee Kennedy; Jackie Sheils; Orla Fitzsimons; Sharon Lynch; Siobhan Fleming; Sarah Mimnagh, Mairead Coyne, Fiona Reidy, Nicole Fowley, Ilse Van Staden. Alisa Hughes, Anna Caplice. Louise Galvin, Laura Feely, Edel McMahon. Michelle Claffey. Aoife McDermott, Cliodhna Moloney. Lindsay Peat Ciara Cooney, Leah Lyons, Chloe Pearse. Nichola Fryday, Sene Naoupu, Laura Sheehan, Lauren Delany, Emma Hooban, Ellen Murphy, Anne-Marie O’Hora, Kathryn Dane, Judy Bobett. Neve Jones, Katie O’Dwyer, Aoife Doyle, Hannah O’Connor, Eimear Considine. Victoria Dabonovich O’Mahony, Shannon Touhy, Catherine Buggy, Sam Monaghan, Ciara Cooney, Leah Lyons, Chloe Pearse, Nichola Fryday, Sene Naoupu, Laura Sheehan, Lauren Delany, Emma Hooban. Ellen Murphy. Anne-Marie O’Hora, Kathryn Dane, Judy Bobett, Neve Jones, Katie O’Dwyer, Aoife Doyle, Hannah O’Connor, Eimear Considine, Victoria Dabonovich O’Mahony. Shannon Touhy, Catherine Buggy, Sam Monaghan and Hannah Tyrell.
Pic: INPHO via Rugby.ie