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Technically, everything Mark Clattenburg said was factually correct

By Stella Mills
Mark Clattenburg (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)

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After the sporting world came out to condemn Mark Clattenburg’s comments regarding female referees and pregnancy, I can’t help but wonder if his remarks would have been received differently if they had come from a woman.

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I don’t fully agree with the way Clattenburg delivered his sentiments, but if you listen back with the above in mind, he is onto something. Women do have difficult paths to tread in sport, and pregnancy does require a vast amount of time away from work, as it does with most jobs. Technically, everything he said was factually correct, so why did he come under such heavy scrutiny?

It’s so easy in today’s cancel culture to tar all men with the same brush. People can easily get swept along with the tide believing Clattenburg is just another man with old-fashioned views of women in sport. However, it could be argued that he was highlighting the very issues that women like me campaign for day in, day out. The only difference being that the individual delivering these observations was male, not female.

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The anger towards Clattenburg should instead be redirected at the wider system, or lack of, that we have in place to support women who want to have a family alongside a successful sporting career.

Women are often told that they can ‘have it all’ when it comes to balancing a career and children, but just where does a career in women’s rugby fit into that?

There is so much information available for players who are returning to the game from injury, but when new mothers want to come back and play, little is available resource wise.

In the rugby world, you only have to look across to Jade Knight, a former Welsh International who called time on her international rugby career due to a lack of childcare support. Also, England International Shaunagh Brown recently admitted in an interview with the Rugby Journal that she wouldn’t know what her future would look like if she got pregnant, which speaks volumes about the current lack of support that we have in place for these women.

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This has to be taken in context, England Rugby players are on full-time contracts, so if there is confusion about the return to play and motherhood at that level, what does it mean for grassroots players?

It seems the level of confusion that is prevalent at the elite level regarding pregnancy is also apparent at the grassroots level too.

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Abbey RFC player Annette Bevan started an Instagram account dedicated specifically to bringing awareness of balancing recovery from her emergency c-section with her journey back on the pitch playing Championship rugby.

In her most recent Instagram post, which has received an influx of support, she explained she spent the first week of her recovery frantically trying to google how to return to rugby after having an emergency c-section, to no avail.

If you take a closer look at her return to play journey, it is quite something. Rugby is a physical sport, the very nature of it places huge demands on a player’s body. The brutal force of a tackle alone is enough to knock anyone off their feet, let alone someone who is postpartum. Annette speaks openly and honestly about the challenges she has faced in preparing her body to be back on the pitch which included working closely with a private women’s health physio.

Interestingly, Davina Catlin revealed in an interview with the Telegraph that she also paid for a private women’s health physio to aid her return to rugby. Does this mean that to have children and continue playing rugby, players should be expected to pay for private support? Who has the responsibility here? Is it on the clubs to provide this, or is it on the players?

The option to have children and play rugby should be available to everyone. It shouldn’t be assumed that once you have a child your whole life is over. The support and infrastructure should be in place for mums to return to play.

Speaking of support, the below photo of an Arklow RFC player carrying her two twin children onto the rugby pitch received a high level of praise on social media last week. Some claimed the photo was the publicity women’s rugby needed whilst others thought it highlighted how strong women are compared to men.

The attention this photo has gained across social media is great, don’t get me wrong, but women are only perceived as “strong” and “multitaskers” because they have to be. They don’t necessarily have the option of childcare whilst they attend rugby matches, often that responsibility falls at the feet of women. Also, sometimes depending on the age of the child, mums must be available to breastfeed, which is something which still, unfortunately, comes with a heavy amount of judgment and stigma.

Awareness is one thing, but actionable support is quite another. I would be interested to know how many rugby clubs actually support new mums in their return to play journey. Or more importantly, how many mums have had children and ceased to return to the game we all know and love because of these very barriers.

Yes, mums will face different challenges, but rugby is a sport for all, so isn’t it about time we started supporting everybody on and off the pitch?

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Technically, everything Mark Clattenburg said was factually correct

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