The Black Ferns won the World Cup yesterday, beating England 42-31 in a highly entertaining advertisement for women’s rugby. Not only did it spark celebrations of their unprecedented fifth RWC win, it also brought up the age old arguments of funding and support for minor sports in this country.
Minor sports being everything that isn’t men’s rugby, America’s Cup yachting, cricket and, God knows why, the Warriors.
A lot was made in the wash up about the part-time, more or less amateur status of the players and why they aren’t paid more. There is one quick fix for the Black Ferns though, one that should have been taken care of years ago.
The thing is, they shouldn’t be called the Black Ferns. They should be the All Blacks.
In 2010, NZ Rugby made a decision to align the senior representative teams under the All Blacks name. All of a sudden we had the Maori All Blacks and All Blacks Seven to go along with the national side. It didn’t go down too well in some quarters, and the union didn’t help itself by slashing the funding and effort required for the abbreviated version of the game.
The Maori All Blacks have a very condensed calendar these days and their lack of preparation time was clearly evident in June when they were thumped by the British & Irish Lions. Meanwhile the less said about the All Black Sevens the better, given that they bombed out of the Rio Olympics and failed to win a tournament all of last season.
There was no reason given for why the Black Ferns weren’t given the same treatment. It was even less logical to not apply a new name to the women’s sevens team, who have been far more successful than their male counterparts, who went on simply being called the ‘New Zealand Women’s Sevens Team’.
The fact is, the Black Ferns are the closest thing to the All Blacks there is. They are the only other open, senior New Zealand XV-a-side national team. Not to mention their excellent test record and World Cup success.
So why not put them together, for brand alignment at the very least?
Now, first and foremost, this is a pragmatic solution to an existing problem. The women’s programme needs money and this is an easy way to get it. They can easily slide in beside the men and start sharing their endorsement deals, match fixtures and merchandise sales – because they’ll play in identical jerseys.
Put them in ads alongside the men – because, you know, marketing to women is probably a good idea anyway. It’s highly unlikely anyone will get offended by seeing Portia Woodman taking a swig of Gatorade with Sonny Bill Williams after their clearly staged training session/game.
But don’t just call them the All Blacks, make them All Blacks. Add all women who have represented our country into the official list – admittedly the one that no one paid any attention to until the 1000th All Black made his debut.
Right now the media already is starting to put the women on the same par with the men, anyway. One of the more frequent soundbites of the last fortnight was how superstar winger Portia Woodman is on track with prolific All Black try-scorer Joe Rokocoko’s strike rate after 20 tests.
Just make it official. If nothing else it’ll mean that Woodman will have the World Cup record for tries in a match by an All Black – currently held by Marc Ellis, of all people.
And guess what? It’s been done before, and was highly successful – just the other way round. The name ‘Black Sticks’ used to refer to just the women’s hockey team, till Hockey NZ aligned the name for both sides. While it’s obvious the women have a clearly higher profile, a Google search brings up news and images of both sides.
I know this will cause some consternation among fans of the Black Ferns’ name, and yes, I do understand that there is a lot of mana that has been built into it by some seriously committed and strong women. But things change, and often for the better. I watched Athletic Park, home of some of the most iconic moments in All Black history, get torn to the ground and replaced with Westpac Stadium. The British & Irish Lions played Super Rugby teams rather than provincial unions this year and it worked perfectly. Rucking is long gone and no one under the age of 58 misses it.
The uncomfortable truth is that the Black Ferns name isn’t going to bring the money that the All Blacks can. Right now they have AIG emblazoned on their chest and that’s where the bulk of their operating budget comes from, but by making them a full rather than junior partner in the All Black brand will mean exposure to a whole new world of commercial opportunities.
But let’s just put the money issue aside. Given the standing the All Blacks have in our society, this would be a huge gesture towards the equal standing of women in employment – because it’s 2017, and it’s kind of a big deal.
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