Wednesday, 22 February 1995

RFU loses sex discrimination case


BEVERLEY DAVIS, a Cornish dentist, won her sex discrimination case against the Rugby Football Union yesterday.

The 35-year-old honorary secretary of Helston RFC plans to stand for election as Cornwall's representative on the RFU's national general committee but claimed that the all-male RFU at Twickenham was damaging her chances in the poll by questioning whether its rules would allow her to sit on the committee, should she win the local vote.

At Brentford county court Judge Bishop granted Davis an injunction restraining the RFU from raising doubts about her eligibility until after the election. The RFU had written to the Cornish RFU last year quoting its rule 17 and hinting at doubt about women members serving on the committee.

The RFU said Davis could stand for election but, even if she won, it had not yet decided whether it would admit women. 'I am not prepared to be disadvantaged because I am female,' said Davis, who feared clubs might think a vote for her 'could turn out to be a wasted vote'.

Judge Bishop agreed with her yesterday, saying the RFU had had ample time to sort out its rules and that the delay in doing so had clearly been to her electoral disadvantage. 'The defendants have appeared to treat her less favourably than the men,' he said and he refused the RFU leave to appeal.

The RFU claimed that as a private club it was not covered by the Sex Discrimination Act. It said it could interpret its own rules as it wished - but anyway it had yet to decide whether its rules precluded women from the committee. But Lindsay Bryning, a solicitor for the Equal Opportunities Commission, claimed the RFU was not a private club, for it provided public services, and that there were many female members of RFU clubs, so they should be allowed to be represented nationally.

Twickenham's male diehards say any committee member should fulfil the same eligibility requirements as England rugby players; and, because RFU rules bar a girl over 13 playing in the same matches as boys, such a requirement could never be met. In addition, since the national women's rugby body had always made clear its desire to remain separate from the 'male' RFU, this should be reflected in the committees of the two organisations.

The Helston club, of which Davis is secretary, was formed in 1965, so has none of the history of famed Cornish teams. But the name of Helston resounds uniquely in sport, for the little hill town was the birthplace, in 1862, of Britain's only world heavyweight boxing champion Bob Fitzsimmons. Obviously the tradition of breeding fighters continues.

One by one sport's male bastions have fallen. Might the clubhouse at St Andrews or MCC's pavilion and committee room at Lord's be stormed next? All 'masculine' trophies are presented on the pavilion balcony and it jarred after the 1993 women's World Cup final that the presentation was on the outfield grass.

It reminded some of the Durban Open Golf Championship at the height of South Africa's awfulness when the Indian winner Sewgolum received his trophy outside in pouring rain while the white competitors he had beaten watched from inside the clubhouse.

In the Sixties the Jockey Club was forced to give way when the trainer Florence Nagle won in the Court of Appeal and put an end to its chauvinist fiction by which training licences were granted to women only 'in the name of their stables' male head-lad'. Now the club accepts women members and women jockeys.

Many golf clubs are still riddled with discrimination through the male-dominated 'private' get-out, and the men fight on with petty, dyed-in-the-wool misogyny.

In the first dozen years since the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act, the Equal Opportunities Commission received some 2,000 complaints about the lower status and treatment of women members of private sports clubs. Davis's case will be another landmark.

Source Citation
"Rugby Union: RFU loses sex discrimination case in court." Guardian [London, England] 22 Feb. 1995

Monday, 13 February 1995

England v Wales

Gerald Davies reports on a skilful women's international in which England beat Wales 25-0

The old world changes, and so do attitudes. Years ago, a friend of mine used to say, in his fashion, that, for so rough a game, he could not get over the extraordinary number of women who followed rugby. Were he still with us today, he would find that the women are not only there sitting beside him in the stand, but out there on the pitch, too. For so politically correct an age, this masculine view of the feminine world may be interpreted as dangerous talk. But there we are. We cannot deny the fact.

Quite what my old pal would say in seeing the women of England actually playing the game against the women of Wales, I am not sure. But knowing him, he would doubtless approve, particularly as he would have seen a match of high skill and wholehearted endeavour at Sale yesterday. He would have been less content, however, since he wore his Welsh heart so firmly on his sleeve, to see Wales go down to so disciplined and well-organised an England team by five tries without reply.

Those who object to women playing rugby are much the same as those who once objected to women running marathons: the over-protective male attempting to shelter what is perceived to be the sensitive femininity of a woman. This is the male chauvinist in patronising mood.

Jeff Probyn put his foot in it recently by wishing, at the first hint of danger and physical harm, to outlaw women from rugby altogether and giving scant acknowledgement that women, like men, can make up their own minds as to what is and what is not dangerous. Adopting such a posture is much like subscribing to Dr Samuel Johnson's view that ``a man is in general better pleased when he has a good dinner at his table, than when his wife talks Greek''.

Had the venerable good doctor known about rugby, he might have added the laws of rugby union as another subject to be kicked into touch. The dissection of rugby's intricacies can often seem like so much ``greek'' in any case.

While England were too powerful for Wales to make it a proper contest, the skills displayed and the overall commitment of both teams were qualities to admire. The feistiness with which women's rugby has been foisted on an unsuspecting and deeply suspicious public deserves to be richly rewarded. Unless that sounds too patronising.

The dominating personality was England's captain. Gill Burns dominated the lineout and like Dean Richards although comparisons are not wholly valid she drew her forwards around her to clear any threats at the base of the scrum. Not far behind her was Jenny Chambers. Suzy Appleby was a neat and busy scrum half, who, with an accurate pass, seemed to turn up everywhere when the need was called. These three set a high standard.

For Wales, Amanda Bennett, at stand-off half, seemed to have studied the videos of when Wales's factory was in full production. She had a fine game, as did Lisa Jones at No8.

Sara Wenn's try from a drive at the lineout close to the Welsh line and Burns's push-over try gave England the half-time lead. Superior power in attack led to three more tries after the interval by Mills, Appleby and Edwards.

Now that England and Scotland are associate members of their respective rugby unions, with Wales and Ireland soon to follow, the future of women's rugby can be nothing less than bright. Any remaining prejudice must fly out of the window.

SCORERS: England: Tries: Wenn, Burns, Mills, Appleby, Edwards.

ENGLAND: P George (Wasps); J Molyneux (Waterloo), J Edwards (Blackheath), A Wallace (Leeds), A Cole (Saracens); D Mills (Richmond), S Appleby (Novocastrians); J Mangham (Waterloo), N Ponsford (Clifton), E Scourfield (Leeds), J Chambers (Richmond), S Wenn (Wasps), H Stirrup (Wasps), H Clayton (Waterloo), G Burns (Waterloo). Cole replaced by L Mayhew (Leeds, 68min). Burns temporarily replaced by K Henderson (Clifton, 56).

WALES: K Richards (Old Leamingtonians); A Lewis (Ystradgynlais), P Evans (Swansea), W Shaw (Aberystwyth), K Yau (Waterloo); A Bennett (Wasps), B Evans (Cardiff); J Watkins (Cardiff), N Griffiths (Cardiff), C Lloyd (Cardiff), J Morgan (Cardiff), S Jones (Cardiff), K Knoak (Swansea), S Butler (Richmond), L Jones (Cardiff). B Evans replaced by C Thomas (Waterloo, 28); Griffiths replaced by B Jones-Evans (Waterloo, 68), S Jones replaced by H Carey (Swansea, 56).

Referee: J Fleming (Scotland).

Copyright (C) The Times, 1995

Source Citation
"National pride dispels prejudice; Women's Rugby." Times [London, England] 13 Feb. 1995