Irish elite female rugby players face a tough decision with controversial IRFU Contracts

Irish elite female rugby players face a tough decision with controversial IRFU Contracts Irish elite female rugby players face a tough decision with controversial IRFU Contracts
Neasa Kennedy

IRFU's Performance Director David Nucifora confirms that 29 Irish women's players have accepted contracts, with eight players rejecting offers from the union.

Of those 29 players some are dual 7s and 15s players who have previously been on IRFU deals before the beginning of this season.

When it was announced in August that the union would be offering up to 43 contracts for women’s rugby, many were excited and optimistic for the future, but as details emerge it is evident these contracts may not be the complete remedy for the issues in women's rugby.

Her Sport understands that there are 43 contracts and about 75% of those have been agreed to. Within these 43 contracts are women's 15s players plus those in the women's 7s, with some players overlapping.

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These contracts are overseen by Nucifora and also by Gillian McDarby, in the newly-created role as the IRFU's head of women's performance and pathways. Several of the 43 contracts will be set at €30,000 - plus training fees, match fees and bonuses, however the majority of contracts are to begin at €15,000 including training fees, match fees and bonuses.

 

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Justified concern surrounds the size of these contracts. The 43 players are to be based in Abbotstown at the IRFU's High Performance Centre at the Sports Ireland Campus. The cost of living crisis is particularly acute in the capital, as the cost of rent and living in the Dublin is higher. For these contracts to be a feasible option for some, it is imperative that the IRFU find ways of providing accommodation for those who live outside Dublin if they are to agree to such a contract.

Given that some players are employed outside of rugby, agreeing to a contract of this size is a difficult decision. Therefore, as expected, some players have rejected taking up an IRFU contract.

 

Nucifora said he was not surprised at the players who did not take up the contracts.

On the players based in England, he said “One, they have a contractual obligation but also they made a decision that they would stay and play their rugby there this year,” said Nucifora.

He also pointed out that players in England can earn between €3,000 and €10,000 playing there. But that has missed the point.

Although several of the England-based players have turned down offers, it does not solely come down to money. It is also about the quality of facilities available in England, the competitiveness of the Premier League there and ultimately the quality of life.

Nucifora also said “The other four players [based in Ireland] are players that are not surprising to us. Just the age bracket of players… we have produced a model that has come on in a very short period of time. Those other women have got jobs, they are committed to their careers which is understandable."

“We fully understand that you have financial obligations that don’t permit you to be able to take up those contracts. We could have just not offered contracts to the ones that we thought wouldn’t take it up, but we have given people a choice, an option.

These contracts are certainly controversial and are sure to spark plenty of debate. When the English RFU first offered women's contracts they were reportedly worth on average €35,000, in comparison to the €15,000-€30,000 contracts being offered by the IRFU.  It is important to note also that the IRFU had already been contracting 7s players from €8,000-€18,000.

On the Irish men's side, academy players are believed to be earning €8,000 a season, with young players attracting professional contracts reportedly earning upwards of €40,000.

Nucifora also confirmed a new women’s Celtic Cup competition that will take place in January and February, with one Irish team playing against Welsh and Scottish sides. Two Irish sides will be involved in the second year of this competition, with hopes to increase it to four thereafter. This announcement has also ignited fears within AIL clubs, that they will be left at a disadvantage due to this, particularly as all Irish contracted players will be based in Dublin training full time.

Although it is true that realistically no matter the offer, not every player offered was going to accept, simply because of life circumstances. Weighing up the options and analysing the pros and cons of accepting an offer was always going to happen. However, hopefully this is the first step and looking ahead contracts will become more financially attractive to players and other kinks will be ironed out, such as the provision of accommodation.

On the financial aspect of the contracts, Nucifora said “It’s not perfect but it’s going to give people options,”

Women's rugby is growing fast and it has come so far in recent years that the hope remains that salaries and contracts will also advance quickly.

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