IRFU Chief Executive Kevin Potts spoke to media today as part of the announcement of the new WNTS Pathway Staff and Women In Rugby overview alongside Gillian McDarby, Fiona Steed and Anne-Marie Hughes, and made the following remarks:
“I would like to start by acknowledging the tremendous efforts of Nichola Fryday and the Ireland team in the Women’s Six Nations Campaign. The players put everything they had into representing their country, and Irish Rugby could not have asked any more of them. While this was not their time, we are confident that their time will come.
“The IRFU accepts responsibility for the challenges in Irish women’s rugby, and will, as a matter of good practice, continually assess and re-assess how we can improve.
As I have said before, we are on a journey, and while there may be setbacks along the way, our commitment to the women’s game, and, to women in our game- is unwavering.
Since the publication of the Women In Rugby Report last December, there has been positive progress on both fronts, but there is still much work to do. All recommendations have been or are being implemented, For example
- We have recently appointed our first head of EDI, Anne-Marie Hughes; A key objective is the development, training and implementation of best practice policies and protocols to ensure Irish rugby is as safe, inclusive, and welcoming as possible.
- Later this month, we will also appoint a new Chair to lead the revised Women’s Advisory Group, which will have oversight of the delivery of the new Women’s Strategic Plan; This will include for the first time at least 3 independent members who have expertise in Women’s Rugby and/or Women’s Sport.
- We are also developing policies and reporting mechanisms to provide confidential channels for anyone involved in the game who has experienced discrimination or harassment.
- By September, more than a third of the senior management team in the IRFU, will be female, and there is a commitment to bring gender balance of 40% on the Union Committee by the end of this year.
This is just a sample of initiatives underway to maximise performance, access, and participation in the game, and to modernise our governance.
Together with the outputs from ongoing consultation across the game, all recommendations will feed into a new strategic plan for Rugby in Ireland, to be published later this year, which will concentrate on future proofing the game.
Contrary to some commentary, the IRFU’s stewardship of the women’s game is in good hands, comprised of women and men elected from clubs and provinces , ALL of whom care deeply for the game and player well-being at all levels. It also includes 240 , committed staff from 15 nationalities, 35% of whom are Women.
In building rugby long-term, we know it is important to include a cross-section of voices, from diverse backgrounds, education, and perspectives from within and outside the game.
As CEO, I am personally committed – as are my leadership team and the Union Committee -to doing everything in our power to ensure that Irish rugby is as high-performing and inclusive as possible .
We understand that discrimination is an issue for every sport and every business. But unconscious bias and all instances of exclusion are unacceptable, no matter what form they take. The IRFU ‘Women in Rugby’ report, published at the end of 2022, in Chapter 1, Page 1 identified this issue, and set out plans to tackle it. We have been acting on this report since its publication and are determined to ensure as safe, inclusive, and welcoming an environment as possible, in all levels of our game.
When I consider the commitment of volunteers and professional staff to the women’s game, together with increased financial resources and the unwavering support of Irish fans, I see much cause for realistic optimism;
Of course, our National Women’s XVs team is the focal point for many, but beneath that there are green shoots in participation and pathways. For example:
- There has been a 10% increase in male and female players, at all levels to almost 250,000 since Covid 19.
- The total number of Women’s teams has more than doubled since 2018 from 190 to 470.
- There are now almost 43,000 girls each year involved in our Aldi Play Rugby programmes.
- And we have more than doubled our direct investment in Women’s Rugby to €6.4m this year.
Have we delivered everything we wanted to? No, we have much more to do, and we would like to fast-track that journey as much as possible, especially now that Covid 19 is well behind us; but progress is being made.
The IRFU also wants to sustain the confidence of our players on this journey. The prize is enormous and will be worth the effort.
I am confident that through effective leadership; collaborative partnerships; and building improved structures, processes, and pathways; more women and girls will have the opportunity; interest; and support to play rugby in Ireland to the best of their ability. This will in turn lead to increasing numbers of girls playing in schools, clubs and colleges and having the opportunity to represent Ireland on the world stage .
In closing, let me reiterate our commitment not just to our players and all in our women’s game, but to being available to you the media, to address your queries on all aspects of the game. We appreciate your interest and the opportunity, as the sport’s governing body in Ireland, to put forward the IRFU’s position on matters critical to our game.
And finally, I would like to wish the Ireland Women’s Sevens team the very best of luck in Toulouse this weekend as they bid to qualify directly for the 2024 Olympic Games. Now that is something we all want to see.”