Irish Women’s Rugby is reeling after a viral video of the Connacht provincial team having to get changed amid rubble and rubbish adjacent to Energia Park on Saturday was followed up by an unexpected defeat to Spain in the World Cup Qualifiers which puts their participation at next year’s Finals in serious jeopardy.
The second is a sporting setback. The first is more serious and will pose serious questions across the wider universe of the sport in Ireland.
The facts are that the Connacht and Ulster teams turned up at Energia Park on Saturday for a nationally televised, blue-chip sponsored final round tie in the Vodafone Women’s Interpro’s tournament.
Because this was not yet deemed sufficiently ‘elite’, the standard prohibition on the use of indoor dressing room facilities was in place as part of meeting Covid regulations.
Leinster Rugby was the host for the event and had identified an area at the Southern end of the pitch for the teams to set up their own temporary facilities. This has been the process throughout the three weekends of action.
The previously used area behind the Old Wesley clubhouse (red arrow in the picture above) had been deemed unsuitable having been used before but because the operations staff had yet to arrive at the ground when the team turned up, they were directed to set up there by the staff who were there and had seen that space used before. They should have been sent to the area just around the corner marked in green.
Most gameday staff in all Irish sport will be operating on a volunteer basis and the doubleheader had obviously meant there was a breakdown in terms of who should have been there to welcome the teams.
The Connacht team did what hundreds of club sides do on pitches up and down the country every weekend and made the best of what they were faced with.
TG4 was televising the game and there would be no opportunity to push things back, and warm-up routines needed to be done. Were it not for one of those involved posting a video to social media it might never have come to light.
But they did and it has so now the IRFU is in a searing spotlight.
They are answering the questions with statements of the facts, apologies for it having happened and promises to hold a full review of how it came to be.
The real challenge lies in the perception that this happened because not enough thought or resource was put towards the Women’s game in the first place.
There has been a well thought out and well-executed campaign under the theme #NothingLikeIt and the intention to uplift the games attractiveness to young players is clear.
Now though the gap between intention and delivery is being hauled out into a very unfavourable place.
Could this have happened if it had been Jonathon Sexton and Conor Murray turning up to play? Covid has disrupted many of the norms that would have been OK but still, at a flagship interprovincial tournament, the answer has to be no.
We can see how it happened for the women and that is because they were treated at a lower level, not unlike would be the case regardless of gender across many sports at the club level, but surely they had earned the right to better.
We have no doubt that will be the result of the investigation. In Ireland, at the moment there is a rush that we have to find someone to blame, and that we have to shout loudly on social and mainstream media for that.
The reality here is that the blame probably lies in a combination of people who were doing their best to manage volunteering with their own commitments to family and life. They are probably the people who get up in the morning and do things while others lie in bed and post things.
There does need to be a change in the way in which events are managed based on their level in the game regardless of gender. International demands a higher level of organisation than provincial, in turn, higher than the county, in turn, higher than a club.
Yes, there should be a minimum standard but it cannot be Gold for everyone. It should have been here.
There will be a change because two of the IRFU’s principal partners Vodafone and Energia, have been caught up in this. They would both have expected more and will demand that there is a visible improvement.
We should never be afraid of what someone might post about facilities. We should be about putting those facilities into service in the first place. That is where things need to be improved upon.
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