Sixty two current and former Irish rugby internationals have written a letter to the government calling for support and “meaningful change” following the IRFU’s “historic failings”.
The letter asks for Ministers Jack Chambers and Catherine Martin to “request oversight of the ongoing reviews, to help guarantee the findings are transparent and help ensure they maintain their independence”.
It also asks for support in following through on recommendations and that “leadership with the necessary authority and appropriate governance is put in place, alongside a serious action plan”.
The letter is a consequence of a tumultuous year for the Irish women’s rugby team, who failed to meet any intended targets set out by the IRFU, including qualifying for the World Cup and the Olympics.
Back in September, Ireland’s failure to qualify for the next World Cup led to the establishment of an independent review from the IRFU. It was then announced that the full results from the review would not be released, instead only “key findings” would be published.
Shortly after, the Director of Women’s Rugby in Ireland Anthony Eddy took his first interview since Ireland’s loss against Scotland, in what was labelled as “astonishingly defensive” and “spineless”.
Rather than likening any failures down to structural barriers, Eddy stated that the teams had “a lot thrown at them over the years” and that the “girls were disappointed with their performances on the day”.
I honestly wish I was more surprised at this take from Eddy but I'm not.
Is this the voice of someone who cares about the women's game in this country?
Utterly deflating and I can only imagine what current players are feeling. https://t.co/xjviQTGnje— Jenny Murphy (@jennymurphy045) November 9, 2021
Current Irish international Cliodhna Maloney likened Eddy’s comments to “slurry”.
This new letter calling on the government is the result of weeks of discourse on social media as more and more players have begun to speak out against the IRFU.
“The players have aligned on a collective message” Irish international Judy Bobbett told HerSport.ie, “ what we’ve said in there speaks for itself ”.
It’s an unprecedented move from the players and has proved effective across the waters.
Similar moves by the Welsh team at the start of the year resulted in changes and the introduction of 25 contracts, both professional and semi-pro.
A huge diolch to @SiwanLillicrap who has been instrumental during these past 18months in pushing for change. It hasn’t been easy but the outcome is game changing for the future of our sport in Wales & for current players in their prep for the WC #leadingfromthefront https://t.co/1G5dcgQyM3— Elinor Snowsill (@elsnowsill) November 4, 2021
In April, 123 former Welsh players wrote a joint open letter to the Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Steve Philips calling for the women’s game to be more developed in terms of pathways, regional teams and equal opportunities – “We cannot stand by and watch the women’s game deteriorate any further”.
A statement which is now being echoed by those in the green jersey.
The Irish international’s put the recent events into perspective in the letter which was obtained by the 42.ie, stating that the failures “simply reflect multiple cycles of substandard commitment from the union, inequitable and untrustworthy leadership, a lack of transparency… and an overall total lack of ambition about what it [the women’s game] could achieve”.
“We want to trust the formal process and leave it in the hands of those who’ve been sent the letter,” former Irish international Grace Davitt told HerSport.ie
“We have talked openly to the issues,” said Davitt, who has been a vocal advocate for women’s rugby in Ireland over the last number of months.
Other prominent players part of the 62 strong list includes Lindsay Peat, Claire Molloy, Ciara Griffin, Linda Djougang, Sene Naoupu & Eimear Considine.
The Irish women’s rugby team join Italy in being the only amateur international teams in the Six Nations pack.
England became the first in the world to make their women’s team fully professional back in 2018, a move soon followed by Scotland and then Wales.
At the time, Welsh captain Siwan Lillicrap put the introduction of contracts down to “the players for being brave and saying what we wanted for the future”.
Something which the Irish players are now exemplifying.
The IRFU have responded to the letter and said that it “refutes the overall tenor of the document”.
“It is disappointing that this group chose now to come out with a series of allegations” said the statement.
“The responsible approach would be to allow these reviews progress and conclude their work independently, without attempt to influence their work through outside interference”.
All eyes are on the government now to see what changes, if any, will be put in place.