Why rugby boot manufacturers must up their game to cater for women
Crewkerne player Cody Hyland recently did what most of us do ahead of a new season – go shopping for a new pair of rugby boots. When she questioned the lack of boots for women and girls, she was told she would have to purchase boys’ boots or look online as they didn’t sell them in-store. “If these actually aren’t the best boots for my female body to play in, why don’t I have access to the kit I need in the same way my male counterparts do?”
When searching Sports Direct’s online store and filtering by gender only two options are available which – you guessed it – are men’s or boys because males are the only ones who play rugby, right? The exact same issue is prevalent on Lovell Rugby. The Rugby Store was slightly better, offering an adult’s section, but still no sign of women’s or girl’s boots.
Rugby boots are mainly made and marketed for men by men. I’m in no way claiming these sporting outlets are sexist, but if the shoe fits… For grassroots and elite players, this is nothing new. In a RugbyPass interview earlier this year, England’s Poppy Cleall call out sports equipment providers for the lack of women’s rugby products and its subsequent lack of visibility of female rugby players.
The topic of rugby boots for women seems to have divided the rugby community. Thea Northcott, a member of The Girls Rugby Club XV, mentioned she didn’t have any issues with playing in her boots, which are branded as boys’ boots. Others suggested the lack of female boots was down to supply and demand, arguing that the demand for female boots was not high enough to justify a female-specific line.
Wanting to learn more about the science behind this, RugbyPass spoke to Ian Griffiths, a foot and lower limb specialist who is the director at Sports Podiatry Info, to find out more. Griffiths started off the conversation by explaining: “The expectation would usually be that for a given stature adult female feet are shorter and narrower and have higher arches than their male counterparts.”
All she was doing was pointing out #rugby boots in her local sports shop are not made or marketed to women.
Did she really deserve these vile comments in response?
How is this still happening in 2021?!
Some of these people have daughters? They have mums, sisters?! pic.twitter.com/yKOBwi9GlK
— Stella Mills ? (@stella_mills_) August 31, 2021
Academic research on this supports Griffiths’ statement. As Wunderlich and Cavanagh (2001) wrote: “Female feet and legs are not simple scaled-down various of male feet but rather differ in a number of shape characteristics.” With this information to hand, questions must be raised as to why boots are not made and marketed specifically for women. If, as academic research has proven, we have different shaped feet, surely we need our kit to be made differently to support us?
Additionally, differences between male and female feet emerge early on, as research has shown differences between young boys’ and girls’ feet being visible in children as young as four years old. Therefore, the argument that junior boots can and should be unisex is questionable.
Speaking specifically on rugby boots available to female players, Griffiths continued: “My experience is that those marketed as ‘female’ are usually essentially just scaled-down versions of the male versions. I have not seen any dramatic differences in their design features or stud placement. “It certainly does not appear that the boot market is reflective of the playing population, nor taking into account that female feet aren’t just small versions of male feet.”
If you think this issue is restricted purely to grassroots players alone, you are mistaken. Elite level female rugby players don’t have boots made specifically for them, so they often suffer the exact same issues that grassroots women and girls do. Problems with poor fitting kit extend far beyond boots. Female players at all levels have problems with poor fitting shorts, shirts and even sports bras, but that is a topic that needs far more attention than this week’s column.
Crossing over to the football world, Ida Sports have realised the marketing potential and commercial viability behind female-specific footwear. Co-founder Laura Youngson commented: “Often people don’t realise there is a problem with unisex shoes, especially women. We are educated to believe that unisex shoes fit everyone, but they don’t. You need a shoe that is made for you because it improves performance and reduces the risk of injury.”
The brand has redesigned female football boots, ensuring studs are placed in unique positions to relieve the pressure on the soles of a player’s feet, the boots feature a narrower heel cup and wider toe box to combat pinching and avoid blisters. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a rugby equivalent?
Women’s rugby is one of the fastest-growing sports on the planet. Therefore, the argument that there is no viable commercial audience for these boots is null and void. Sports retailers are missing out on a huge trick here. Imagine if we had access to rugby boots that fit us and supported our feet in specific ways.
Just imagine coming in from training, taking your boots off and not having to peel off multiple layers of socks because your boots are too big, or not having to apply a fresh set of blister plasters to your heels because the boots are that uncomfortable, they make you bleed.
It’s about time brands started taking their marketing more seriously and started listening to women’s rugby players because, ultimately, it’s a win-win for both sides. It is commercially attractive for the business and can be nothing but a positive for female rugby players.
'What I love about O2 is that they’ve actually been doing it for years… they came in and said: ‘We are doing this, we are going to pay the woman & the men equally’ @_JessHayden ??? spoke to @poppy_g_c about actions speaking louder than wordshttps://t.co/A8XlE1FZQ4
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 25, 2021
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