By Jami Jordan
I grew up in Pennsylvania, so I’m pretty well versed in Punxsutawney Phil and the hype surrounding Groundhog Day. When I read An Open Letter to the Women’s Rugby Community from USA Rugby Leadership on the WRCRA’s site, I thought I had stepped into the movie Groundhog Day. The letter was reminiscent of the climate at USA Rugby (USAR) thirty years ago. It was 1990 and USAR was in dire financial straits, cutting funding for programs by thirty to forty percent.
In 1990, the Women’s National Team was preparing for the 1991 World Cup. At the time, I was Chair of the Women’s Committee and made what I thought was a bold, strategic request for funding. I calculated that the team needed $47,800 to attend the World Cup in Wales. Instead of waiting for USAR to determine what was an appropriate amount for the women’s team, I lobbied to get realistic numbers in front of the Board. I was elated when the Board voted to increase the allocation to the Women’s National Team to $6,000 from the previous year’s budget of $4,000. From a percentage standpoint it was a big increase, but realistically it was far short of what the team needed. I have to admit that given the financial circumstance of USAR at the time, I remember feeling lucky to get $6000. In hindsight I realize I was making excuses for USAR. In the end USAR stipulated that the $6000 had to cover all expenses related to the women’s program, not just the World Cup expenses.
The first Women’s World Cup was held in Cardiff, Wales. It’s worth noting that USAR would not allow the Women’s National Team to use the name Eagles until 1990 and that the team arriving in Cardiff was almost the Spirits or Ospreys. When we arrived, we were approached by the Russian Women’s National Team, they also had no funds for their journey and had brought a number of products to sell to finance their trip. We were surprised, but the truth is only our pride kept us from doing the same thing.
After the US women won that first World Cup, Bob Watkins who was President of USAR at the time sent a letter out to all the World Cup players. Here is a quote from that letter:
"Unlike the Men’s National Team who is totally dependent on the Union for funding and program development, you have successfully accomplished a World Championship status on your own initiative, with only limited financial support from our Union. Our organization is made up of many parts and if we all worked as hard as the women have to achieve success through cooperative efforts, USA Rugby would be a much stronger Union today.”
While we all felt it was gracious of Bob to send the letter, it did nothing to repair the damage already done. Worse, it seemed USAR now had a mantra, ‘the women can raise their own money.’
The Women’s XV Tteam, our Eagles, are once again tasked with financing their World Cup journey. Abandoned by USAR and unclear about funds from World Rugby, the players are charged with raising approximately $350,000. World Rugby will likely pay for travel and lodging to and from the World Cup, but the players will have to finance their own preparation (camps, matches, and per diem). I realize many in the rugby community have little sympathy for the financial hardships of the Women's National Team. As they struggle to carve out funding for their own youth, high school, club and college programs, many resent the national teams for gobbling up limited community resources. But let's remember, the Women’s National Team is very different from the Men’s National Team. The Women’s National Team was first formed in 1986. It was a radical creation; an act of defiance by a group of very smart and brave women. Much of the hierarchy at USAR did not want the Women’s National Team to exist and refused to support the team. The first combined men's and women’s international match was a disaster. The women’s team, coaches and staff were humiliated at a combined US-Canada banquet in a speech by the captain of the US Men's National Team while USAR representatives smiled and applauded. The US and Canadian women walked out of the banquet. And still, we persisted.
Women and male allies nurtured those early women’s teams, paying out of pocket for expenses and calling on the rugby community for support. I believe we saw the team as an important manifestation of the progress made and the potential for women’s rugby. But many of us also saw the team as an act of defiance. It was clear the existence of the team made many at USAR uncomfortable. And no matter how successful the Women’s National Team was, a number of USAR leaders did their best to starve the program of funding and exposure. The small and big humiliations continued with much of that coming to a peak at the 1998 Churchill Cup. As a side note, USWRF was founded because of USAR’s abysmal treatment of the Women’s National Team at the 1998 Churchill Cup. The Women’s National Team is still an act of defiance. Still forced to do more with less. And yet, we persist.
This essay is not a plea for the women’s rugby community to, once again, dig deep and fund the team. It is not the responsibility of the women’s community to provide the lioness’s share of funding to the Women’s National Team; it’s the responsibility of our NGB, USAR, to ensure that the men’s and women’s national teams are equitably supported. We have to wake up from this endless cycle of deprivation and ensure that the women don’t continue to assume the burden for the mismanagement and disinterest of men. It’s time for parity.
USAR recently released their Reorganization Plan. On the slide titled, Reorganization Objectives, bullet number five reads, "Grow the women’s game with the goal of achieving parity." The goal of achieving parity suggests that there is no timetable; no date by which parity will be realized. That's understandable as achieving parity would require a full understanding of the calculus USAR has employed and currently employs when funding the national teams. We deserve to hear the plan for parity, not excuses for why women deserve less. In the coming year we will be asked to ‘be the impact’ and give to the Women’s National Team through the XV Foundation. But to be truly impactful we must hold USAR accountable for achieving parity. We have to stop accepting that parity is an aspiration. Parity must have a date. The future is now; we have to wake up from Groundhog Day.
Tell us what you think. WRCRA invites you to share your ideas and comments through our online form for how to break the cycle and achieve parity. We will collect your feedback and send as recommendations to the restructuring committee.
Jami Jordan retired from a 34-year career in financial services in 2017. A major part of her career focused on managing large technology programs and trading platform changes. From 1980-1991 Jami played with Chesapeake Women’s Rugby Club and the Maryland Stingers. In the mid-80’s she joined the Eastern Rugby Union Women’s Committee. By 1990, she was the Chair of the USA Rugby Women’s Committee and steered the program through the first World Cup and the first Collegiate Nationals, both in 1991. In 1994, she joined the first international Women’s Advisory Committee (created by World Rugby). In that role, she was an integral part of the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. Jami is currently working with WRCRA on developing a comprehensive history of women’s rugby in the United States.