The IRFU will have to explain its running of the women’s game to the Republic of Ireland’s government after a group of 56 current and former women’s players wrote to Irish Ministers Catherine Martin and Jack Chambers to express their lack of trust in rugby’s governing body.
Relations between the union and a group of respected internationals and club players appear to be at an all-time low, with the letter stating that the players have lost trust in the IRFU’s stewardship of the game.
In a statement, the IRFU “refuted the overall tenor” of the lengthy letter.
The letter has been signed by legendary former players like Lynne Cantwell and Fiona Coghlan, recently retired stars Ciara Griffin and Claire Molloy and current players Cliodhna Moloney and Kathryn Dane.
The players have called for government intervention to ensure the two ongoing reviews into the women’s games provide meaningful improvements. They wish to have access to the reports and said they will make a report of their own. The IRFU has said it does not intend to publish the reviews in full.
Minister for Sport Martin and Minister for State with responsibility for Sport Chambers have written to the players to say they are treating their concerns with the “utmost seriousness”.
They’ve offered to meet with the players, while they’ve also brought Sport Ireland in and wish to meet with the IRFU to discuss the situation.
“That letter is being considered with the utmost seriousness, particularly in the context of the leadership that the players have shown in recent years in driving the game forward,” an Irish government statement read.
“The Ministers have written to the players to let them know they have sought a meeting with the IRFU to discuss the issues raised by the players.
“They have also requested that Sport Ireland engage with the players. The Ministers advised the players they will be happy to meet directly with them also.”
Among other things, the players’ letter accuses the IRFU of lacking ambition when it comes to the women’s game.
The letter states: “We write to you as a deeply discouraged group of current and former Irish women’s rugby players having sadly lost all trust and confidence in the IRFU and its leadership after historic failings.
“The aim of this letter is to seek your support now to enable meaningful change for all levels of the women’s game in Ireland from grassroots to green shirts.
“We write in the wake of a series of recent disappointments for the international team, on and off the field, but ultimately recent events simply reflect multiple cycles of substandard commitment from the union, inequitable and untrustworthy leadership, a lack of transparency in the governance and operation of the women’s game both domestically and at international level, and an overall total lack of ambition about what it could achieve.”
The letter goes on: “We ask that you meet with the IRFU to confirm appropriate guarantees of meaningful change so the women’s game can move forward positively. We ask that you request oversight of the ongoing reviews; help guarantee the findings are transparent and help ensure that they maintain their independence.
“We ask for your support in gaining assurances that both the findings and the recommendations of these reviews will be made fully available to the players and that relevant details and full recommendations are published publicly and following that, that leadership with the necessary authority and appropriate governance is put in place alongside a serious action plan and new targets to help move the game forward.”
One player who didn’t feel compelled to add her signature is Claire McLaughlin, currently part of Ulster and Ireland set-ups.
She admitted: “While I support the overall aim of the letter and the ultimate goal of improving women’s rugby in Ireland, I could not with integrity sign my name. After studying the letter, I simply struggled to replace my name for some of the “we” statements, and therefore felt I could not sign.
“Those who seek to improve the landscape for current and future Irish women’s rugby players have my support, and I’m confident that with the insight being offered from current and former players, we could see Irish rugby in a much better place.”