All eyes are on the England’s Women’s Rugby Team, the Red Roses, in preparation for the Women’s Rugby World Cup, which will be kicking off on 8 October in New Zealand.
On 23 September it was revealed in a Telegraph article by Fiona Tomas that the Red Roses would be flown economy class on British Airways for their 28.5 hour journey to New Zealand to take part in the Rugby World Cup.
Whilst this may normally go unnoticed, this took Women’s Rugby Journalist Stella Mills and others by surprise given that British Airways sponsor the England Rugby Teams and in 2019 the airline flew the England Men to Japan in business class in their own chartered plane with the words “Sweet Chariot” inscribed on the side with special food and protein snacks to prepare them best for their Rugby World Cup bid.
In 2018 British Airways publicised the partnership as follows – “The partnership will see British Airways fly the Men’s and Women’s teams to matches all around the world, including to Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan and Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2021”.
So the question everyone is asking is…why weren’t the Red Roses offered the same treatment as the England Men’s team by British Airways and the RFU?
The Red Roses have just won their 25th consecutive test (recently beating Wales 73-7) making themselves the first team in history to do so – and are the hot favourites to win the Rugby World Cup.
In her interview with Nick Ferrari on LBC on Monday, Mills stated that:
“the microscope needs to be on the sponsors…the women are not the priority.”
Clearly the RFU and British Airways both understand the public relations fiasco that could result with this unequal treatment of the teams. So much so that England players were “under strict instruction to not to post photographs from their 28-hour journey on social media” according to the Telegraph article.
The RFU has defended its decision to fly the Red Roses in economy class by stating that the Red Roses are loss-making and that they “have to make challenging decisions around what they can invest in” and included a list of items wherein the team management has chosen to invest.
With the rising cost of living and two premiership rugby teams on the verge of bankruptcy, there is a good argument that the RFU must be careful with its finances. However, surely the cost of the flights should fall to British Airways and not to the RFU and must be part of their sponsorship costs.
One twitter user commented, “Proper financial decisions protect the future of an unprofitable vertical.” However, it is becoming increasingly clear that Women’s Rugby can be profitable with further support and opportunity. This will be put to a test on April 29 during the final round of the Six Nations when England will play France at Twickenham as a standalone fixture and not as a double header alongside the men’s team.
Apart from pure financial decisions, there is still the question of treating athletes equally, giving our athletes the best possible chance of success and showing the public and younger generation that women’s sport and athletes are important. Representation matters. After all, the RFU itself has used this mantra in their own advertisements – “If you can see it, you can be it.” Given their record breaking winning streak, there is literally nothing more that the Red Roses could do to show that they are a successful side and deserve to be taken seriously.
In her interview with Nick Ferrari on LBC on Monday, Mills made this crucial point,
“If England bring home this trophy, will they be flying home in economy? I very much doubt it”
to which Ferrari responded, “what a great line, Stella”.
Of course, regardless of which side of the fence you fall on in respect to this question, now is the time to support the Red Roses and get behind the girls in their bid to win the Rugby World Cup.
If you would like to learn more about the Red Roses, check out the documentary “Wear the Rose: An England Rugby Dream”, which will be airing 3rd and 4th October at 10:50pm on ITV.
What Do You Think?
Tell us what you think. Should the England Men and England Women be treated equally? Are the RFU and British Airways right in their decision making?
These issues are never black and white but they must always be transparent and not simply swept under the rug.