Girl power on the field


The historic sociological path of women in sport, in which rugby, particularly in New Zealand has been an extremely highly valued male domain, has been arguably bumpy.

Perhaps the overarching pioneer environment of the late 1880s gave women in New Zealand more freedom than their Victorian counterparts in the Motherland when it came to sport though.

By the 1890s women in New Zealand had established cycling clubs, were playing hockey, had taken up shooting, were rowing in regattas and had formed a rugby team.

Direct links can in fact be made between these early clubs and the suffrage movement that gained Kiwi women the first female voting rights in the world.

However the glaring biases of women not being allowed to run the marathon, row more than 1000m or officially compete in rugby, see-sawed the opportunities throughout the 20th century.

It is a little known fact that a proposal for a women’s rugby tour of New Zealand in 1891 was met with such a cry of public outrage that the idea had to be quickly scrapped.

Fast forward to 2015 and the NZ Women’s rugby sevens team have not only dominated the World Series since its inception in 2012, but they are current world champions after beating Canada in 2013.

The nature of the sport requires athletes to tackle, hit, grab, push and generally control others through using their bodily physical force.

Some would say these bodily actions do not necessarily align with the socially accepted actions that women are expected to perform.

The actions in rugby can result in bruised, battered, dirty and sometimes bloody bodies; which deviates from how society outlines the way in which female bodies should look (try finding an international sports magazine cover with a female rugby player in full flight).

A recent report found that in the major rugby-playing nations of the world, the average ratio of male to female players was almost 38:1. Across nations, this ratio varied from approximately 3:1 (USA) to nearly 415:1 (Argentina).

A 2012 study into the exercise intensity experienced by a women’s rugby sevens’ player during a match, proved that more than 75 percent of that time was spent at 80 percent of maximum heart rate or above, the average sprint distance was 20 metres flat out, and the average amount of sprinting in all directions in a 14 minute game was 200m. Rest, repeat.

And okay, it’s a bit of a shonky list but there’s an ‘Ask Men’ list that appeared last month defining the 10 hardest sports and rugby was third on that list, behind only American football and MMA wrestling, with five sets of tennis showing up ninth.

So not for sissies then.

It seems entirely apt that the New Zealand women finished a whole 12 points clear of their nearest rivals in the 2014-15 World Sevens series, and have stamped their authority in being one of the first New Zealand teams to qualify for Rio; where the inaugural Olympic women’s rugby sevens’ tournament will unfold.

Kiwis would be right to be enormously proud of our women yet again paving the way and breaking down social and sporting barriers.

Just quietly though, it must be questioned how long it will take until a woman ends up on the NZRFU Board.

Alison Storey is a personal trainer who has represented New Zealand in three different sports (beach volleyball, rowing and rhythmic gymnastics). She has been awarded New Zealand Personal Trainer of the Year twice and runs Storey Sport, a mobile personal and sports training business which provides a range of services that optimise the fitness and wellbeing of its clients.



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