They say actions speak loader than words, and that’s exactly the case with the postponement of the NRL-W season.
Rumours have been ramped about this for over a week now, but it wasn’t confirmed by the NRL until Thursday, at least a day after it had been confirmed by journalists and the RLPA.
No press conferences, no major media interviews, and players have said that the only communication they received was one zoom meeting.
Considering the NRL was very vocal about being one of the first sports back up and running in the face of COVID, their silence was deafening.
Coincidently, while this was all happening, wives, families and girlfriends of NRL players were brought into Queensland despite strict border closure, leaving many people questioning why this was possible but an NRLW player bubble wasn’t. While this is in no way the fault of the families or partners, it does highlight the power of the NRL.
There seems to have been backup plans upon backup plans for the NRL going ahead, but not even one was in place for the NRL-W. It doesn’t help that until recently there was no female representation in the RLPA board, and a collective agreement is only now being created after 3 years of the NRLW competition existing. The RLPA and WPAG have since been very vocal about their displeasure with how things have been handled.
To make matters worse, Channel 9 have reported that one club has paid their players for their time, which will count as part of their payment for the postponed season, but other players won’t be paid at this time. This is despite the fact that they have been training and preparing for weeks, with many taking time off work or relocating.
Now I’m not saying that the NRL-W season shouldn’t be postponed or could’ve been run. Obviously the safety of players always comes first, and chances are no one outside the NRL knows or understands the limitations and struggles that they’re facing. It has also been reported that a bubble system wasn’t possible, as some players understandably couldn’t commit to three months away from their jobs or families.
But it can still be argued that the NRL should have prepared earlier and should acknowledge how this disadvantages female players, especially considering the sacrifices they already make. As semi-professional athletes, they don’t receive anywhere near the wages of their male counterparts and need full time jobs just to pay their bills.
These women play in local competitions from April till September, and many are doing training camps, State of Origin, NRL-W seasons and end-of-season representative matches on top. This all requires them to take significant amounts of time away from their family, friends and jobs. Maddie Studdon even had to leave her job just to compete in the 2018 State of Origin.
If their personal, professional and financial sacrifices weren’t enough, some players are now locked out of their home country due to the lockdown. Nine New Zealand based players who came over to play are currently stuck in Newcastle, with no idea when they’ll get home. Granted this is the difficult nature of lockdowns and the NRL are assisting them to get back, but surely this could have been avoided.
People argue that the women’s game doesn’t bring in enough money to help it grow, but do these people believe that NRL players built the game to what it is by themselves?
It takes significant amounts of marketing, funding and business management for a game to be successful, and it’s unfair to place all that responsibility on the players. After all, that’s what the NRL signed up for by starting a women’s competition.
The 2021 NRL-W season will now take place in early 2022, and there’s positives and negatives to that.
Firstly, there’s now a chance that the NRL-W season could coincide with the AFL-W season. Running at the same time as a competition that has now become stand alone and expanded to include the same teams as the men could expose some flaws in the NRL-W, and make tough competitions for ratings.
The postponement also creates issues of player overload. Playing two seasons, a three game State of Origin series and World Cup is a big ask of players who already sacrifice so much and the sudden extra workload could cause more injuries.
On the other hand, a stand alone season could be what the NRL-W needs to really grow it’s supporter base. After so many fans missed out on going to games this year, many would take up the opportunity to enjoy a game of footy in the sunshine. Bigger crowds means bigger exposure and more money going straight back into women’s rugby league. That’s a win win situation.
In reality, no one knows what this change will bring. It could build the NRL-W and help it grow, or create new troubles. What we do know is that there a lot of women negatively affected by this situation in the here and now, and that’s not good.
We may be going through crazy and unpredictable times right now, but surely the NRL can do more to support the women’s game. A set of pink jerseys and a dedicated round just isn’t enough anymore.