The shadow sports minister has criticised the Rugby Football Union’s decision not to renew the contracts of England women’s 15-a-side players and urged the governing body to reconsider.
In a letter to the RFU chief executive, Ian Ritchie, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said the organisation was showing it was “far less than fully committed” to the women’s game. The contracts of the England players looking to defend their World Cup crown in Ireland next month will expire after the tournament, with the focus then shifting to sevens.
Despite the undoubted success of England’s women – having gloriously won the World Cup in 2014 – the RFU continues to argue that this shift in emphasis was always the long-term intention.
However, Dr Allin-Khan suggested that system was unfair on the players, whom she described as a “source of inspiration to countless girls and women the length and breadth of the country”.
She wrote: “Although the RFU’s statements have made clear that the RFU is ‘cycling’ between contracts for the 7s and 15s according to the schedule and focus of the major international competitions, it should be noted that the RFU is placing the risk of playing international rugby on the players themselves. Asking players to pause and resume their professions every two years puts their futures at considerable risk.
“For an organisation with a total annual revenue in the hundreds of millions, to make this decision is deeply disappointing. Surely the RFU should be focused on investing in both aspects of the women’s game and should be prepared to back this up with secure contracts for both teams – 7s and 15s. After all, this is the commitment that the RFU has made to the men’s game in England. “The most concerning aspect of this news is what it says about the RFU’s ongoing commitment to the women’s game. As you yourself have clearly stated: ‘48 professional player contracts are being awarded for the England Women’s game as part of England Rugby’s ongoing commitment to the professionalisation of women’s rugby.’ This discontinuation of these contracts sends the opposite message: that the RFU is far less than fully committed to the women’s game.”
She added: “We have come such a long way and the England Women’s team have rewarded us with no less than world titles. We cannot fail them with a poverty of ambition or investment. We therefore strongly urge you to reconsider this decision.”
The first central contracts issued by the RFU were for sevens in the buildup to the 2016 Olympics in Rio. After that 15s contracts were issued as preparations began for the 2017 World Cup.
The next batch of contracts will be focused on the 2018 World Cup Sevens and the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.
The 15 full-time players currently on 15s contracts have been aware since April the current cycle would end after the World Cup. An additional 17 players have been issued short-term contracts for the tournament. Ten of the current 15s squad are set to be retained as sevens players post-World Cup. England begin their World Cup defence against Spain on 9 August.