Wallaroos Take a Stand: Highlighting Gender Inequality in Australian Rugby

Australia Women’s sports are on the rise, with remarkable achievements like the Matildas, Australia’s women’s soccer team, securing a fourth-place finish in the 2023 Women’s Soccer World Cup. This momentum in women’s sports highlights the progress being made in recognizing and celebrating female athletes’ talents and dedication. However, beneath this wave of success, there are still challenges that need to be addressed, as demonstrated by the recent actions of the Wallaroos, Australia’s women’s rugby team.

The Wallaroos have taken a stand against Rugby Australia, criticizing the governing body for its lack of investment in the women’s game. In a coordinated social media protest, the players alleged that they have been treated unfairly compared to the men’s team, citing examples such as flying economy class while the Wallabies fly business class, and not being offered full-time contracts.

The Wallaroos also alleged that Rugby Australia told them there was no money for full-time playing contracts at the time they were recruiting league star Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii on a multi-million dollar deal. This contrast highlights a clear discrepancy in the treatment of male and female players.

Furthermore, the players were critical of the fact that their coach, Jay Tregonning, was only on a part-time contract. This raises concerns about the level of support and resources being provided to the women’s team in comparison to their male counterparts.

The players’ statement and allegations have been met with widespread support, with many people calling on Rugby Australia to do better. This uprising of voices emphasizes the urgency of the situation and underscores the significance of the Wallaroos’ decision to speak out.

The Wallaroos leadership group is preparing to meet Rugby Australia chief executive Phil Waugh on Wednesday and will share their concerns directly. They are set to present Waugh with a list of things they’d like to see more action on, including greater levels of promotion and increased funding and clarity around their short and long-term futures.

Sources familiar with the situation said players have still not been offered contracts for next year. While players are in line for multi-season increases to the part-contracts that began this year, they are also receiving offers from overseas clubs and the NRL’s women’s competition. 

Arabella MacKenzie, Kaitlin Leaney, Emily Chancellor, Grace Hamilton, and Ash Marsters are some of the players wanted by clubs in England, France, and Japan.

Currently, the top 32 Wallaroos players are contracted on a part-time basis, across three tiers. The top 11 players can make up to $52,000 a year, but Super W players only get a minimum of $4000.

Rugby Australia’s appointment of a dedicated Women’s High-Performance Manager on Tuesday is likely to speed up the contracting issue, informed sources said. Former Olympic rower and rowing performance manager Jaime Fernandez was announced in the new role. Fernandez’s position has been largely funded by World Rugby as part of the “Accelerate” program, which aims to help equalize women’s rugby globally over the next decade. Rugby Australia will also use World Rugby funding to put toward a full-time Wallaroos coach, it said in a statement.

The next steps in this saga are unclear, but the Wallaroos have made it clear that they are not going to accept anything less than fair treatment. Their stand is a remarkable and courageous moment for women’s rugby in Australia, demonstrating their determination to reshape the landscape of the sport and attain the equality they deserve.

In addition to the Wallaroos, players from New Zealand, Ireland, and Wales have also spoken out about the lack of investment in the women’s game. In recent years, these unions have taken corrective steps, such as increasing funding for the women’s game, offering full-time contracts to players, and providing them with the same travel and accommodation arrangements as the men’s teams.

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