It’s been called irrelevant and ineffective and just a shameless promotional tool for sponsors, but the Women in League round is important.
Last weekend the NRL held its annual Women in League Round to coincide with Mother’s day.
In a hard hitting article on the 2014 Women in League Round (see here), journalist and avid League fan Karen Hardy listed six reasons why she thinks the Round is ‘irrelevant’ and also condescending.
Let’s be clear – the Women in League Round is merely a promotional tool. But does that make it irrelevant or ineffective (or indeed condescending)?
Many organisations, particularly international agencies, designate a day on which they seek to raise awareness of a cause or a group that is important to them (including women). Most traditionally male sports in Australia seek to attract more women to their sport. They do it to increase participation, membership and spectator numbers. In the most crass terms, they do it because it makes good business sense.
But does that make it wrong? Is the NRL failing to attract women to the game?
Raiders boss Don Furner says, “the Women in League round gives the NRL and clubs the opportunity to promote female involvement across all parts of the game from participation to administration. It’s also an opportunity to encourage more women to become involved in the game through showing what women have achieved in the sport.”
A key objective of any football club is to communicate effectively to parents, particularly mothers, to help increase junior participation.
Furner says that the Canberra Raiders are, “one of the few NRL clubs which assist in the administration and funding of local rugby league. During the season the Raiders conduct junior club visits, where all members of the team are assigned to a junior club and attend training sessions and assist club coaches.”
In terms of membership, around 23 per cent of Raiders members are female. The female membership across the game is only 25 per cent.
The more physical nature of rugby league is sometimes cited by parents, particularly mothers, as a reason not to guide their children towards sports like rugby league. The Soccer Mum phenomenon in the USA could also become a factor in Australia where mothers guide their children towards less physical sports (such as Soccer).
Debbie Ford, CRRL Junior Competition administrator says, “junior rugby league has a number of measures in place to make the game as safe as possible for junior participants. They have a safe play code which protects participants from any type of foul play or any act during the game which is deemed dangerous..”
In the media generally (eg Andrew Webster in the SMH on 15/4) and on the Footy Show in particular, there have been suggestions the NRL should ‘Bring back the Biff’. While there is little the NRL can do about such media reporting, it does make it harder to encourage more women to appreciate and support rugby league. The appointment of Erin Molan to the panel of the Footy Show is a positive.