Women’s Six Nations Rugby Must Turn Professional to Maximize TV Exposure

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England Red Roses v Scotland Women - RBS Six Nations
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 11: England Women's Kay Wilson scores her sixth and her sides ninth try during the Women's Six Nations Round 4 match between England Red Roses and Scotland Women at Twickenham Stoop on March 11, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Rachel Holborn - CameraSport via Getty Images)
This years’ men’s Six Nations will long be revered for its brutal competitiveness, when Scotland pierced the hopes of two home nations. Italy employed bewildering tactics out of nowhere, France fought Wales until the 100th minute, and formidable England crumbled on ‘the brink of history’ to the Irish.

This breed of competitiveness was also mirrored in the women’s Six Nations competition, that featured an England side breaking new ground; with a talented group of players, all on varying levels of professional contracts.

England magnificently capitalized on the historic Televised broadcasting opportunity of this years’ Women’s Six Nations, where every game was broadcast or streamed in some form for the first time ever. Wonderful exposure, that supported the quality of matches.

The Red Roses fought from 13 points down against France, their tenacious back three countlessly crossed the whitewash against Wales [won 0-63]. Winger Kay Wilson (see main picture) wrote her name in the history books, with a record seven tries against Scotland–all amazing accomplishments.

The final weekend of competition saw a Grand Slam showdown between England and Ireland on St Patrick’s night; a fixture that neither side has won by a margin greater than seven points over the last three meetings. For England to win 34-7, their novel professional status was plain to see.

Maximize TV Exposure for the Women’s Game

But for all its revolutionary potential, growing TV coverage of the women’s game, if it is to feature next year (which it probably will) threatens to undermine the integrity of the women’s Six Nations.

When England battered Scotland and Wales with over 60 points each, en route to their Grand Slam, TV screens did little to hide the new disparity between professional and amateur women’s rugby. While she deserves full recognition for her remarkable performance against the Scots, Kay Wilson’s seven tries marked England’s superiority above their British neighbours–but subtly questioned the longstanding credibility of the women’s competition. How many little Scottish girls, teenagers and older women were inspired to try their hand at throwing an egg-shaped ball around? (after watching England cut through the Scottish defence like a knife through butter).

How can a team, thrust under an embarrassing, unwanted limelight, really inspire greater participation numbers, if professional sides like England continue to shine against the backdrop of what is still an amateur competition?

Since the RFU announced player contracts in light of England’s Women’s Rugby World Cup success in 2014, the uptake by other nations has been slow in XV’s rugby–if not non-existent. With the likes of Wales’s Sian Williams and Scotland’s Jade Konkel the few to be offered professional contracts, and several players in New Zealand to compare with, there are too few women to measure the other Six Nations teams to.

Women’s Six Nations Rugby Must Turn Professional

It is vital that the other five nations follow England’s example and secure professional status soon for the good and growth of the game. Winning a world cup might not have to be necessary, but funding does, and this duly raises questions over how much money generated from TV rights will be ploughed back into national rugby bodies.

As the profile of women’s rugby continues to increase, the Six Nations council, World and European governing rugby associations should be careful to not compromise the quality of a growing sport which is at risk of being only intermittently glamourized on our screens.

With the upcoming 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup, this is the time to maximize the exposure of the women’s game. The current lack of professionalism is hindering it’s progress, and to be a pathway for women across the globe to play the game of rugby.

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