Former England full-back Danielle Waterman has announced the launch of the Women’s Rugby Association (WRA) on Monday, a new player’s union to represent the top-flight of women’s rugby Premier 15s.
The Rugby Players Association represents all professional players in England, but only women who are under contract with the Red Roses are eligible to join, with semi-professional and amateur Premier 15s players previously left unsupported.
The WRA aims to provide a “collective voice” for all Premier 15s players, alongside legal, medical and welfare support.
Waterman, who won the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup during a 15-year international England, will serve as the WRA’s first chief executive. She said the idea for the organisation began after Bristol Bears flanker Alisha Butchers was forced to crowdfund for treatment after suffering ankle ligament damage in March.
“My passion has always been about providing support and a voice for the players,” Waterman told ESPN.
“I read about a player earlier in the year who needed to crowdfund for an operation… It wasn’t about trying to sort that one situation, but rather to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and how could that be implemented.
“At the time the RPA couldn’t provide the resource to do it, so it was like ‘right, let’s crack on.'”
The WRA will be governed by a players’ board made up of one player from each Premier 15s club, elected by members who play for the relevant club. There will also be an executive committee.
“The response outside the game has been amazing, but the messages I’ve had from players saying thank you and saying that they’re really looking forward to what we’re going to be doing. That’s the thing that matters the most,” Waterman added.
“I think setting up the association is really critical for the growth of the game because at the moment there isn’t the opportunity for the players in the Premier 15s to have a collective voice, and if you don’t have that how can you have input in a league that is growing at such a significant rate?
“We’ve had some really positive conversation with the RFU [the sport’s governing body] all the way through because they want their players to be supported and feel comfortable with how they are off the field, because if you feel supported then you worries and concerns aren’t going to transfer into training and playing.”
The announcement of the WRA comes on the same day that 62 current and former Ireland women’s internationals sent a letter to the Irish government to say they have lost faith and confidence in the Irish Rugby Football Union’s governance of the women’s squad.
The IRFU has been in hot water after a number of disappointing results on the international stage, including not qualifying for the Rugby World Cup, which players see as a result of underfunding and poor management of the team and several off colour comments from the director of women’s rugby Anthony Eddy.
While the IRFU are undertaking an independent review into the failure to qualify for major tournaments, the results of the review will not be made public and the squad want the government to help enforce transparency in the process.