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Sinead Kissane: Lack of accountability from IRFU undermines women's game

Irish Women's team ahead of Six Nations Rugby Championship match against England
Irish Women's team ahead of Six Nations Rugby Championship match against England
IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora. Photo: Sportsfile

Sinéad Kissane

You've probably heard about mushroom management. It's a term used to describe the running of an organisation where communication between those at the top and those at the bottom is far from ideal. The thinking behind it is simple: keep employees in the dark and feed them s**t.

The top decision-makers in the IRFU have been doing a fine job of keeping us in the dark about the direction of our national women's 15s team and we've been largely left to figure out ourselves if the team's standing within the union is on some sort of borrowed time. The news broke this week that the IRFU had turned down an offer from Rugby Australia for the Irish women's team to play on the undercard of the Irish men's three-Test series in Australia.

What a progressive and ambitious leap that would have been for women's rugby and Irish women's sport to have our national senior rugby teams - one professional, the other amateur but elite - touring together. However, waiting to see what decision the IRFU bosses make next about the women's 15s team has been like watching a blindfold game of pin the tail on the donkey. Just where will the deadly tail be pinned next?

This has been no game of blindfold. The IRFU got the ball rolling last year when a few of our best players were withdrawn from a Women's Six Nations game for a sevens tournament despite/in spite of it being a World Cup year. The union backed that up with an ad for a part-time, casual job for the national women's head coach after the World Cup, then November came and went without a game, then prime-time TV slots offered by RTé for their Six Nations games were reportedly turned down and then landed news of this decision not to allow the women's team tour with our men's team.

A source within the IRFU said that not even the Ireland women's head coach, Adam Griggs, knew about the decision to reject the tour to Australia and only heard about it when the news broke in the media. Imagine Joe Schmidt finding out through the media that the IRFU decided against something similar with the men's team? Actually, don't even bother trying to imagine that, because it would never happen.

Do imagine for a moment what sending our national women's team to Australia (with the host country offering to pay for accommodation) alongside our national men's team would have signalled about the vision the IRFU would have shown for the women's game.

It would have shown that the IRFU was committed to the development, progression and exposure of our female players to performing in high-intensity tours. It would have shown that the IRFU was intent on giving our female players the same opportunities as our male players. It would have shown that the IRFU doesn't want our national women's team to fall behind other countries, like New Zealand - who now have professional players - by giving Irish players the invaluable experience of playing a three-Test tour against Australia.

It would have shown Irish girls who're interested in playing rugby the kind of opportunities which could be on offer if you work hard. It would have shown this really is a #teamofus with our two national teams on the same card, with the women playing before the men rather than after which simply did not work at the Aviva Stadium in the past. And there also would be the possibility of cross-pollination of ideas, views and expertise between the players, coaches and management teams which would have been mutually beneficial.

But, no, there's no place for that kind of dreaming. The excuse has been put forward by some on social media that the IRFU's spend on our national women's 15s team is not viable because of the lack of return or because of its low reach or popularity in comparison to men. But that kind of narrow-mindedness completely misses the point of having a national team.

A national team, irrespective of gender, should be afforded as much support as possible by the union which is meant to protect and govern it. Let's remind ourselves of the stated values of the IRFU which are: respect, integrity, inclusivity, fun and excellence. In the IRFU's 'From Grassroots to International Success', it stated these values should be reflected "in every aspect of the game".

That was from the IRFU's Strategic Plan for Irish rugby 2013-2017, which is clearly past its sell-by date in more ways than one.

How can the IRFU possibly include those same values in the new strategic plan for Irish rugby, which is due to be published later this summer, considering the way the women's 15s team has been undermined this past year? Since last year, the IRFU has hidden behind this review to avoid giving answers over what direction women's rugby is going here. However, the catch is that it's clear performance director David Nucifora and director of women's and sevens rugby Anthony Eddy know what direction it's going after everything above.

Where is the accountability for the decisions Eddy and Nucifora are making with regard to the future of our national women's 15s team? Why, to my understanding, was the offer from Australia not discussed at the monthly union committee meetings? Why weren't the results and findings from the WRWC review and a separate review of the women's game published? What is the IRFU hiding? Where is the transparency? Why is the union playing fast and loose with the future of our women's 15s team and giving the 7s team continued priority? Why is this happening right in front of our eyes yet the IRFU decision-makers are not verbalising what's going on here or explaining their decisions?

Before Ireland's Grand Slam game with England in March, Joe Schmidt said "history doesn't protect you from the future". It's the same for our women's team. The fact they were the first Irish national team to beat a New Zealand rugby team, the fact they won a Grand Slam and a Six Nations does not protect or guarantee their future.

The IRFU need to start showing these players proper inclusivity and respect. This is our national team. So stop keeping us in the dark and start telling us the truth.

Irish Independent

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