Given the success and the size of Irish rugby in recent years, you would be forgiven to think that that the women’s rugby jersey was freely available to buy. Up until last week, this was not the case.
The Irish Women’s Rugby Football Union was established in 1991 and the women made their international debut two years later. Since then, they have recorded two Six Nation Championship wins in 2013 and 2015 as well as a fourth-place finish at the 2014 Women’s World Cup.
If you wanted to show your support for the women’s rugby team by wearing the Irish jersey, you would have had to wear the men’s kit. Despite the fact that the two jerseys were distinctly different in design and sponsor (AON sponsor the women’s team whilst Vodafone sponsor the men’s), the women’s rugby jersey , had not been available to buy in shops, or even online on the IRFU website.
This changed last week after Canterbury of New Zealand – the official jersey manufacturer for Irish rugby – moved to end the long standing feeling of inequality by designing the same gear for both male and female senior international teams for the upcoming season. This launch is part of a wider push on women’s products and we are told to expect to see an expanded women’s team training range to be available.
Finally great to see that the manufacturer are moving away from the round version of the crest for the women and have gone with a proper crest design after all these years.
The Ireland women’s rugby jersey is now available to purchase from October and should be available in time for the rescheduled Six Nations fixtures. The jersey is also available to pre-order from August 20th on elverys.ie.
Canterbury of New Zealand said, “The women’s and men’s jerseys share the same brand-new design worked on for the IRFU.”
“This launch is part of a wider push on women’s products as fans can also expect to see an expanded women’s team training range to be available.”
A huge step-forward for the women’s game and strong push for equality but despite the long-overdue progression, there is still a lot of work to do.
The rugby manufacturer unveiled both the men’s and women’s jerseys but glaringly opted to use female models over actual Irish international women’s rugby players. The same approach was not taken with the men as Bundee Ake, Robbie Henshaw and Conor Murray sported the new kit.
A nameless face in the jersey does nothing to represent the women who will be wearing it. Brilliant to inspire the future Robbie Henshaw’s and Connor Murray’s, but when visibility for the women’s game is so key, this is a missed opportunity & thoughtless marketing.
— Florence Williams (@FlorenceW94) August 22, 2020
After receiving plenty of criticism for their approach online, Canterbury of New Zealand were quick to respond to explain that due to the pandemic they had to postpone their official women’s launch which will now be scheduled for the coming weeks.
A representative tweeted: “Due to COVID-19 our women’s jersey samples were halted in production, pushing back our women’s shoot.
“The models you see above are from a 2019 photo shoot for e-commerce photography in the old jersey. Our team have super imposed the new jersey on.
“We were too excited not to show you this preview on launch day!”
Some Twitter trolls were quick to come out of their caves and show support for the decision to use models. It’s crazy to think that this statement would be made publicly and not expect backlash. Why are looks even coming into it?
The male players selected for this marketing campaign are selected based on their connection with the public. The female athletes are as attractive as the models used it this campaign. A conversation about their looks should not even be brought into the equation.
Because models are better looking/more feminine than your average female rugby player and would appeal to a wider female demographic. The guys are already muscly, rugged and well groomed and already appealing to the target market. Not saying it's fair but that's probably why.
— Steve Elsdon (@SteveElsdon1) August 23, 2020
Female athletes are underrepresented in sportswear advertising and this needs to change. Often companies like Nike, Adidas, Puma etc. take the approach of using popular models for advertisement campaigns rather than actual professional female athletes. Why?
For example, Bella Hadid for Nike campaign or Kendall Jenner for Adidas. These models do not represent female athletes at all but instead encourage a certain look and a very specific body-type, which is more similar to the long-legged, stick-thin model look we have been trying to get away from for decades, than the athletic body type, which can vary hugely from sport to sport.
It sends the message of prioritising body-image over actual sporting performance. These models do not represent the Irish women’s rugby team who many idolise and aspire to be like. Body image and eating disorders are rampant among young girls, including those in sport. This only adds to the misconception of body image in sport and misrepresents the athletic body types. Brands across the board, not only Canterbury of New Zealand, should be conscious of this and look to make real connections and relationships with consumers.
There is an opportunity to use players like Sene Naoupu, Anna Caplice, Linda Djougang, Lindsay Peat, Eimear Considine and more. Take your pick. Not only are these athletes admired for their top-class athletic ability, but also for being strong, confident, successful women.
They have earned their place on a national team and should be celebrated at every opportunity. It’s doubtful that the IRFU had no say in this marketing campaign and so, should have also been conscious of the message they are sending to their national team players, club players and nations fans.
The younger generation need more female sporting role models and brands and sporting organisations have the opportunity to facilitate this. It’s time to make a change.