Dan Sheridan/INPHO Ireland captain Ciara Griffin is one of the players who signed the letter.

Player power forces a climbdown from the IRFU but actions matter most

The hard-hitting letter has set the ball rolling with two reviews to be published early next year.

SEEING THE IRFU climb down from its initially confrontational and dismissive position has been a good start for the 62 Irish women’s rugby players who signed a letter sent to the Irish government last week expressing their lack of faith in the union.

That strongly-worded letter asked Sports Ministers Catherine Martin and Jack Chambers to intervene with the IRFU in order to ensure complete transparency in the two independent reviews ongoing in the women’s game.

In that sense, the letter can only be deemed a major success.

The IRFU yesterday promised to publish the two reviews – the first into Ireland Women’s failure to qualify for next year’s World Cup, the second being a wider, structural review into the women’s game in Ireland.

The World Cup review is due to be published next month and will make for intriguing reading. It will no doubt be embarrassing for some people who are criticised and it’s a complete u-turn in policy from the IRFU.

Up until now, they have never published reports like this in either the men’s or women’s game. It will be interesting to see if this is the policy going forward.

The second review into women’s rugby will be unveiled in the first quarter of next year and feels like it could be just as important. The women’s game in Ireland benefits from lots of people working hard for progress but there has been a lack of connection along the way.

On top of tangibly succeeding in their aim of the reviews being made transparent, the players who signed the letter have also made the IRFU acknowledge that they will listen to them.

The union’s statement yesterday vowed that it will seek a meeting with some of the players next month and “assures them that their views will be listened to and fed into future planning.”

Words, of course, are the easy part. The IRFU couldn’t manage even that on Monday evening when they dismissed the players’ letter as “outside interference” and came across as aggressive in their response.

Soon after, Ministers Chambers and Martin made it clear they were certainly taking the players’ message seriously and they sought a meeting with the IRFU – with Chambers expected to meet with the union next week.

jack-chambers Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Minister Jack Chambers is expected to meet with the IRFU next week. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

That forced the IRFU into a rethink and at a committee meeting on Thursday, they agreed to climb down from the position of confrontation, cede to the players’ demands, and make an attempt at conciliation. Yesterday’s statement expressed the union’s regret.

What matters next is the actions of those in the union. 

Publishing the reports is a start but the IRFU needs to mend relationships with the players, so many of whom will hope to feature under new head coach Greg McWilliams in the coming years as the rebuild on the pitch begins. What must McWilliams have made of the past few weeks and months since he accepted the position?

The IRFU yesterday vowed to work “tirelessly to mend and build the relationship between the union and our players,” who pointed to what they called “inequitable and untrustworthy leadership” from the union. 

It was a stunning move from the 62 players to send their letter to the Irish government just over a week ago, but it has got the ball rolling in the direction they wanted.

Long-term, actions will speak much louder than words in the IRFU’s case. 

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