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Varsity sexism: Women in sport matter

By Ellie Smith

Organisers of last Friday’s Varsity match actively discouraged fans from watching the women’s match, and used it as more of a warm-up act for the men’s game.

The Glasgow Varsity match has been a long-standing tradition – played between the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde. Before Friday, Strathclyde had never lost a match. For the first time in Varsity history, both the University of Glasgow and the University of Strathclyde had women’s teams playing in the rugby. The University of Glasgow women’s team (the Badgers) won 22-17, with the Strathclyde women giving them a good challenge. However, while the barrier to women playing in the varsity match was broken, there was much to be desired with the organization of the event, which actively discouraged ticket holders from watching the women’s match.

Women’s rugby is an extremely fast-growing sport, with female participation levels at an all-time high. It is estimated by World Rugby that there are 2.7 million female players globally. More than a quarter of the overall playing population is now female, and there has been a 28% increase in registered players since 2017. This is a big development for a sport that is typically seen as a male and has developed a particularly ‘laddish’ culture surrounding it. Both the Badgers and the Strathclyde women’s team play in the British University and Colleges Sport (BUCS) league, the highest level of university rugby. The women’s BUCS league involves many major universities, showing how much women’s rugby has grown at university level.

This year the Varsity match was played at Scotstoun Stadium. As usual it was a hugely popular event, with all tickets sold out. With a lack of public parking at Scotstoun, there was a shuttle bus arranged to help transport people to the event. The women’s kick-off was at 17:15, and there had been an American style ‘tailgate’ event arranged before kick-off, with a DJ, food, and naturally, lots of drinks. Sounds like great fun, right? Here’s the catch: the event ran through into the women’s game and didn’t end until the men’s kick-off at 19:30. So, in order to ‘pregame’ the men’s event, you had to miss the women’s game. The previously mentioned shuttle bus also did not get people to the stadium until after the women’s game. So why was this the case?

It is a bold claim to accuse the organisers of sexism, but maybe this isn’t far from the truth. The organisation seems to have almost actively discouraged people from watching the women play, with exciting events taking place outside the stadium that conveniently stopped before it was the turn of the men to play. Ticket Holders had paid to see both games, and there wasn’t an extra charge to watch the women play, so it’s not like the organisers had to entertain people who had arrived early, or who didn’t have tickets to the game. The worst part is the shuttle bus: why could it not have left earlier, to ensure that people could arrive to watch a match which they had paid for? The fact that this was going to be the first year that there would be a women’s game at Varsity was widely publicised in the promotions for the event, but it almost felt like the women were being billed as a warm-up act for the main event. The organisers can’t have it both ways: was it a ground-breaking moment, where a glass ceiling was smashed, or are the female players just a support act for the men?

The women’s teams deserved better. They had to train just as hard as the men’s teams, if not harder. Women’s rugby is consistently underfunded and underappreciated as a sport. The women’s teams are often given the worst pitches, and don’t have access to all the best equipment, making their training even harder. It is simply unfair that the women’s teams did not get the appreciation they deserved. At the next Varsity game, there needs to be big changes made to ensure the appreciation of the women’s teams. The shuttle bus should arrive in time for the women’s game, the ‘tailgate’ should stop (or at least pause) for the women’s game, and there should be efforts made to emphasise that there are two separate games happening – not a main event and a support event.

Despite all the adversity they faced, the two teams were still able to play some amazing rugby, and while the women’s game may look different from the men’s game, it was by no means less exciting. And for University of Glasgow students, it was the only chance that they had to see Strathclyde get beaten – it is a huge shame that so many people missed out due to the organisation. At the next Varsity event I hope that there will be big changes made, to ensure the appreciation of the women’s game. Most importantly, I hope that the teams will be given more opportunities and funding, to ensure that they can continue playing rugby at this high of a level.


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