Sunday, 1 January 1995

RFU excludes candidate from election to an RFU committee... because she is a woman

Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones takes some outdated attitudes to task as the RFU board rules that if you can't play for England, then don't bother to apply.

IT IS impossible to be left unimpressed by the outer face of the Rugby Football Union. The vertiginous monster that is Twickenham, creeping under the tower cranes, is much more than a stadium-rebuilding project. It is the most eloquent statement of confidence in the future. All the more reason to be disturbed by the recent discovery of medieval ruins on the same site.

I suppose it was inevitable that there would be a flurry of publicity when Beverley Davis, secretary of Helston rugby club, announced her candidacy to become Cornwall's representative on the committee of the RFU. There is always a fuss about the first woman anywhere in space, in parliament, in rugby. When the first female physiotherapists appeared at rugby clubs, everyone duly trotted out the jokes about treating groin injuries. These days, with all that out of the system and with almost every major club in the land having a female physio on their medical team, they are left to get on with their (priceless) work.

A new respect for women in rugby in England has allowed the sport to emancipate itself from a largely scandalous past. All the more shocking then, that the RFU has revealed its old colours. It has ruled that Davis is ineligible for its committee, not by raising a valid regulation, but by cowering behind one.

The offending regulation states: ``The qualifications which govern the Union's selection of players for England...shall apply to all persons nominated for constituent body representation on the Committee.''

It is obvious this measure was intended purely to exclude non-English people. If you can't play for England because you are not English, then you can't possibly sit on the RFU either.

But for the RFU to pretend that the regulation was ever meant to exclude women, for it pointedly to use it as a cheap shot precisely to exclude one woman in particular, and to say that Davis cannot stand for the committee purely because she has no chance of being chosen to play for the England team, is just too insultingly preposterous for words.

And even if you can bring yourself to ignore the breathtaking sexism of it all, does anyone really believe that for the future of a game in rapid turnover, the administration at the top level is so outstanding that it can deny the potential of half the population of the country.

Consider the potential loss. There are now 72 women secretaries of English rugby clubs, there are thousands more acting elsewhere on the committees or as coaches, commercial managers, referees, press officers and rugby journalists. There are no roles in the game that women cannot fill. Rosie Golby, the best-known administrator in the wondrous explosion that is women's rugby, decorated in The Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards, could move effortlessly into any senior role in the men's game. Davis has a distinguished record in rugby administration, including eight years representing her club, and the Cornwall RU.

What of the damage to the game's image. Until the RFU manoeuvre, rugby had become a far more comfortable environment for women. The RFU had led the way in royal treatments of wives and families of players, and the wonderful Leicester club, which has more than 3,000 members, has been the gem of the new images.

But we are now reminded of the desperate old grimness, the image which rugby, especially English rugby, had of rampaging sexism that was not only widespread but well earned. There were few innocent bystanders.

I still have a copy of my college's Freshers' Handbook, which solidly warned new female students about the activities of the College Rugby Club. I have always been ashamed that those of us who joined the club to play never spoke out more loudly against those who fastened on simply to cause criminal damage, to verbally abuse any woman within earshot and to sing those staggeringly appalling rugby songs, which some half-wits even used to produce in book or cassette form. Just as I am ashamed that last week I left a Berkshire golf club festooned with Men Only signs on most of its doors, only after playing a round and having lunch. Other sports have their monstrosities, too.

The good news is that the RFU can easily reassert the sport's progress, can banish the impression that a body which now deserves to be called progressive, still has an unpleasant clique at its heart. All they have to do is stop hiding behind a regulation of convenience, to allow the candidacy of Davis to stand or fall simply on the wishes of her electorate in Cornwall and to realise that the future is not a stadium but a state of mind.

Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1995

Source Citation
"Davis tackles an RFU in the Dark Ages; Rugby Union." Sunday Times [London, England] 1 Jan. 1995

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