Are broadcasters failing the women’s game?

On Saturday night, Dylan Hartley will be leading his team onto the Stade de France pitch with the intention of winning England’s first 6 Nations Grand Slam since 2003.  What a lot of people may not realise is that the England Women were also fighting for the Grand Slam against their French counterparts tonight, in a match that would decide the winner of this year’s 6 Nations tournament.

When the England Women won the Rugby World Cup in 2014, the general thought was that this was just what was needed to spur on more girls to play rugby. Unfortunately it would seem like this chance is going to waste, as the amount of women’s rugby being broadcast seems to be decreasing if anything.

(SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT!!) My friend’s website is my first port of call if I’m trying to find what channel a match is on. Just one look at where to find the Women’s 6 Nations this weekend said it all: the title decider, France v England was on the Sky Sports 3 Red Button. Wales v Italy on the S4C website. Ireland v Scotland? Who knows…

Now I understand that it’s not cheap to broadcast a sports tournament, but surely one of the top international rugby tournaments (irrespective of gender) deserves a regular broadcaster. How can we expect girls to want to start playing rugby when they can’t regularly watch these internationals and develop female role models? I’ve found it hard enough remembering which channel I have needed for each match of the men’s tournament this year…and that’s only being spread over 2 channels! How are even die-hard fans expected to remember where they need to watch when there’s half a dozen possible TV channels, before taking into account red buttons and websites?! Its not as if they even get much of a mention during the broadcasts of the men’s games, if we’re lucky we get a quick overview of the 3 matches that last’s almost as long as the highlights of a single men’s match.

For those that may miss this quick recap – assuming we get one this weekend- the French Women beat England 17-12, a result which has won them the title this year. England may be World Champions, but they have now gone 4 years without winning the 6 Nations. There has also not been a Grand Slam for the last 2 years in the Women’s tournament. Matches are getting closer by the year as results much less predictable. The tournament is getting more exciting, yet we’re finding it harder to watch it.

There’s not even the usual 4 years between the last World Cup and the next. The cycle has been brought forward a year to maximise the chances of top players also being able to play in the Olympics and Sevens World Cup. With the 2017 tournament being hosted in Ireland, this was the perfect time to raise the profile of the game, giving the chance for record crowds and broadcasting figures , but it would seem that chance is going to waste.

A focus on women’s rugby at each World Cup will help to get a bit more recognition for the the sport, but in order for it to grow and improve in the way that some other women’s sports have (a perfect example being women’s football) it is vital that the broadcasting of women’s rugby, especially the 6 Nations, improves going forwards. Fingers crossed this happens soon…

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