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Jaz Joyce: 'I needed to show that I want to do this full time, but I can't'

By Stella Mills
Jasmine Joyce of Team GB breaks away to score in the Women's Quarter Final match at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images)

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It shouldn’t have to take an international player calling out their own union for women’s rugby to be taken seriously but in the case of Jasmine Joyce, it took exactly that. After a sensational performance at the HSBC World Rugby 7s Series, Joyce took to social media to express concerns for her future in the sport. From December, the star will no longer be a full-time athlete, as Team GB is set to be replaced with a squad of England players under the RFU’s newly reinstated full-time sevens programme.

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For the Welsh international, this means returning to balancing a full-time career in teacher training with rugby very much being put to the sidelines. Joyce told RugbyPass: “I am looking forward to starting a different career, but in an ideal situation I would go down that route in five years’ time when I am done with rugby. I didn’t think I would be doing it so soon.”

Just days after the double Olympian’s social media post went viral, the WRU issued a statement which promised reform in the women’s game. WRU chairman Rob Butcher acknowledged mistakes had been made in the management of the women’s game. Since then, the WRU have appointed two interim coaches to lead the team into the autumn series but it remains unclear who the team’s permanent head coach will be.

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Looking to the 7s set-up in Wales, the Welsh women’s team are currently competing in Rugby Europe 7s, which is effectively the league below the World Rugby 7s Series. Joyce said: “I have come to terms with the fact that in my career Wales as a nation will not be a part of the World Series. We aren’t good enough yet and we don’t have the platform to build on that.”

It’s mind-blowing that a player as talented as Joyce will not be given a platform to showcase her skillset on the world stage because her nation cannot provide adequate infrastructure to support her. The fact that she was awarded player of the final two weeks in a row speaks volumes to her talent. However, unless the England 7s programme is reformed to include players from Team GB, Joyce will not get the opportunity to play on the World 7s circuit.

Joyce is widely considered to be the poster girl for rugby 7s, with some going as far to say she could be the face of women’s rugby. She used her platform as a rising star in a smart way, to highlight issues which run far deeper than affecting just her future. Conversation has recently focused on the lack of performance pathways available to young girls in Wales. Earlier this year 123 former Welsh representatives came together with an open letter to the WRU, urging the body to provide performance pathways across the region.

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Since that time, and after receiving no firm solutions, the open letter was turned into an online petition. Multiple people in the rugby world have been asking questions about the future of women’s rugby in Wales, but no official response has come until now.

Speaking on the future, and on the call to action made by Joyce, former Welsh international Philippa Tuttiett said: “At the moment I don’t think fully professionalising the Welsh women’s 7s squad would be the quick fix everyone wants. Semi-professionalism could be an option, but we need a player base, we need lots of women and girls competing for places in teams to get the best out of them.

“We have the players in Wales, we just need to provide more of a supportive environment and that starts with player pathways. It’s scary if you think about the number of girls who are losing out on the opportunity to step up and develop, because of a lack of support.”

It is obvious that women’s rugby in Wales has been neglected. As a result, in recent months we have seen a power shift, players like Joyce are slowly starting to realise they hold a fair amount of sway over unions. You only have to look at the likes of England’s Poppy Cleall and her Twitter page to realise that player advocacy for the women’s game is on the rise.

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When asked the reasoning behind her social media post, Joyce said: “I wanted to be honest with how I was feeling on social media. From coming off the back of two brilliant weekends where I was literally living my dream, I needed to show that I want to do this full-time, but I can’t. I want people to know that this isn’t what I do full time, I don’t think fans understand what we have to do in day-to-day life to actually enable us to play rugby. People need to be aware of the wider picture.”

This isn’t just about Joyce’s future, it’s about the players who come after her. It’s about the young girls in Wales who look up to the likes of Joyce and want to pursue rugby as a full-time career when they are older. The recent bout of silence from the WRU has been deafening. It’s almost as if they assume that if they ignore the various calls for change among the women’s rugby community, those voices will eventually grow tired of campaigning and stop talking.

It’s frustrating that it takes a high-profile player like Joyce to speak out about the game for issues to even be recognised in the first place. Joyce has obviously ruffled a few feathers at the WRU, simply by highlighting her individual situation. However, if and when solutions do eventually come, the hope is that they are bigger than just one person. While her social media posts have undoubtably shined light on a wide range of issues, the problems run far deeper than just affecting one international player.

 

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Jaz Joyce: 'I needed to show that I want to do this full time, but I can't'

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