Shocking footage of women's interpro changing facilities proves talk and hashtags are cheap
'Absolutely disgusting and disgraceful.'
On a weekend that saw Munster win their first women's interprovincial title in three years and the national side put in their final preparations ahead of crucial World Cup qualifiers, it was all about bins, rats and a Godawful excuse for 'changing facilities'.
Women's rugby getting overlooked and dismissed with a 'Sure it'll be grand' attitude. When will this record change, as it's scratched to bits and plays a horrible tune.
Saturday saw Connacht arrive in Dublin to take on Ulster at Energia Park [Donnybrook] as part of the final round of the 2021 interprovincial series. The competition was sponsored by Vodafone and TG4 were broadcasting the games live. The standard of rugby was high and Munster downed Leinster in a gripping decider.
The big talking point, though, was the absolute excuse, and state, of the area Ulster and Connacht players were sent to before their 5pm kick-off. As women's rugby, even at this level, is not deemed "elite", it means full access to the changing facilities was not allowed, under current government Covid-19 guidelines.
This would not have come as a surprise to the IRFU, but their 'Plan B' was so grim and unacceptable that you would shudder to think of what Plans C or D were.
A video was posted to Instagram with the comment, 'Wow, great job getting changed beside the dump. Don't mind the rats'.
Just got sent this
Absolutely disgusting and disgraceful that the Connacht women had to get changed with the rats for the #WomensInterpros today
I've walked lyrical about this tournament but to see this I'm horrified
I'm lost for words at this
Equally Saddened & infuriated pic.twitter.com/Wh1cvBQbdg
— The 2nd Row (@the2ndRow) September 11, 2021
The video was shared across social media and started gaining traction around the time Munster - inspired by Chloe Pearse - were in sight of a hard-fought interpro triumph.
The decision to get players from both provinces to change in squalid environs, out the back of the old stadium, was slammed by rugby supporters on Saturday night and Sunday morning. By Sunday afternoon, the IRFU posted a Twitter thread apology that read:
"The IRFU and Leinster Rugby would like to apologise to players, management and representatives of Connacht Rugby and Ulster Rugby and are sorry for the inconvenience caused by an unacceptable error in relation to the positioning of temporary changing facilities.
"Due to current government guidelines, changing facilities are not available for amateur rugby teams. These temporary facilities should have been set up in a more appropriate area.
"The IRFU and Leinster Rugby are extremely sorry for the inconvenience to the teams and the upset this unacceptable error has caused."
For their part, Connacht took the apology in good faith:
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) September 12, 2021
If the video had never been shared, though, Irish rugby fans would have been none the wiser to a deep-rooted issue in the game. Female players are often way, way down the list when it comes to proper care and consideration.
The past few weeks have been so uplifting for female sport in this country. We have seen Meath and Galway storming to All-Ireland glory, Leona Maguire and Katie Taylor getting world-wide attention, Ellen Keane and the duo of Eve McCrystal and Katie-George Dunlevy winning Paralympics gold, and these interpros garnering a lot of attention and praise.
And then you get a glimpse behind the scenes, and see what some of this country's top athletes are still putting up with.
There are so many good people involved in the women's game at clubs, provinces and within the union itself, but a good chunk of the power-brokers do not pay much notice at all. The women are someone else's problem. Sure, they'll take the credit when it comes their way, but don't expect them to actually give a toss about the day-to-day.
This evening will see Ireland taking on Spain as part of their qualifying push for the Women's World Cup - a tournament that was postponed a whole year because of the Covid pandemic, while a raft of men's rugby competitions ploughed on.
Ireland's toughest challenge in the qualifiers will be Italy, but they are favourites to clinch a place at next year's event in New Zealand. One can be sure that the same people that could not have given two figs about where the Connacht or Ulster players got changed, on Saturday, will be lining up to take some of the spotlight if Adam Griggs' side do reach the World Cup.
The current hashtag doing the rounds to promote the women's game in Ireland is #NothingLikeIt
One hopes that we see nothing like the scandalous treatment afforded to Connacht and Ulster's finest on Saturday ever again.
We're supposed to be past all of this. We're supposed to better than this.