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Another astonishing Irish gaffe: Rats, gazebos and poor apologies

By Stella Mills
(Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Just weeks ago, Irish women’s rugby took huge strides forwards as the women’s interprovincial series secured a live broadcasting deal that saw all matches broadcast on free-to-air TV. Fast forward a few weeks and the stark reality of where women’s rugby is at has become evident at both the domestic and international level in Ireland.


In a shocking video that has since gone viral, Connacht were shown to be changing in a derelict dumping ground behind Energia Park in Dublin with only rats for company. Since then, the international squad’s hopes for qualifying in the World Cup have been dealt a huge blow as the team suffered a surprise loss to Spain in the opening round of qualifiers.

This isn’t the first time Irish rugby players have drawn the short straw. In 2018 the IRFU turned down the opportunity to attend a women’s Test series in Australia, despite the only cost to the union being flights, as accommodation was being provided. When pressed for a reason, the IRFU claimed they were instead focusing on November fixtures to build to the Six Nations.

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RugbyPass goes behind the scenes with the Saracens women’s rugby team
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RugbyPass goes behind the scenes with the Saracens women’s rugby team

After watching the viral video, many wanted to understand who had signed off on the decision to place the team in the dumping ground. Some fans even remarked they wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving their car in that area, let alone changing in it.

It’s almost humorous that broadcasters could recognise and reward the interpro series, yet the organisations responsible for organising these women’s rugby games still treated the players involved like second-class citizens.

It was revealed that the gazebo the players were changing under was provided and put up by Connacht coaches. Without them, players would most probably be changing in the open, which makes this pill an even tougher one to swallow. Let’s be clear here, the blame should not be assigned to the coaches who, like many people involved in Irish women’s rugby, tried to make the best with what they had.


The IRFU and Leinster have both released statements regarding the situation in which they apportion blame for the situation on covid regulations and the interpro series’ lack of elite sport status. Despite the games being broadcast on TV, teams were not granted an elite sports status.

Therefore they were still classed as amateur and couldn’t use the dressing rooms. The apology from the IRFU and Leinster stated: “Due to current government guidelines, changing facilities are not available for amateur rugby teams”

Questions have since emerged around the motivations of the apology, with some asking if the statement would have been issued had the footage not been leaked online. Outraged supporters have taken to Twitter, hitting out at the IRFU for its attempt to make the situation right.

One fan account tweeted: “Apologies only come when PR is impacted, not when players are.” This sentence alone spoke volumes, as the statement from the IRFU fell way short of the mark. Hiding behind an amateur team status seems ironic and the lack of sincerity in the apology was clear for all to see.


Why did it take a viral video for these rugby organisations to understand what they did was wrong? Why do sporting organisations have to be shamed into raising standards for women’s teams instead of proactively seeking to progress?

Some have apportioned this poor decision making and neglect of the women’s game to the lack of representation within the IRFU. The IRFU committee is made up of 22 men, and three women. When women are denied the opportunity to be represented at the top level, questions must be raised.

Often high-level representation of women in committees is a tricky subject to broach. Many argue that women shouldn’t be appointed to these positions in the name of equality alone but should instead be vetted against their male counterparts based on skill, experience and knowledge.

However, when you have a system that represents women’s teams so poorly, the representation of decision-makers is essential. Governance of the game is key; people in decision making roles should understand the difficulties that women in rugby face to ensure they can make fully informed choices about the game moving forward.

Last year, thousands of people condemned Canterbury’s choice to use female models to launch the Irish Rugby women’s international kit while star male players were used to launch the male kit.

RugbyPass spoke to Victoria Rush, founder of the #IAmEnough movement, about this week’s latest developments in Ireland. “Brands like Canterbury have learned to embrace women’s rugby, but where is the support from the IRFU? It’s another example of the poor treatment of female players.

“If they can’t speak out for themselves yet through fear, it’s our job to speak for them. Their players are in a tough position, speak out and be dropped from the team for life or just ‘be grateful’ to play regardless of the circumstances.”

To many in the women’s rugby community, this isn’t shocking, it is the standard treatment. Just imagine for one moment that the men had been offered the same space. Would they have settled for that set-up or would they have walked away?


The response of the team speaks volumes to their character – they still went out onto the pitch and put in a shift because they all knew they had a job to do. They didn’t kick up a fuss. They just got changed and played.

It has been noted that the men in the Irish rugby world have stayed eerily quiet on this subject. Instead of rallying around the women’s team, showing solidarity, there has been silence, which leads to asking some bigger questions about the reasoning behind this.

Are players nervous to speak up on the treatment of women for fear of possible backlash on their own playing careers? Or is it just a case of not caring about the women’s team?

Players continuously work towards the mantra of leaving their shirt in a better state than they found it in, but when even the governing bodies are working against you, this might be too much to ask.


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