Lingerie League to Rugby World Cup
By Sam Squiers
Google ‘Chloe Butler’ and the search engine all of a sudden resembles something of a lingerie catalogue. There’s page after page of model shots in bikinis, underwear, short shorts and tank tops. But nestled in amongst them all is a picture of Chloe in her latest uniform…the green and gold.
Chloe is one of the new faces in the Wallaroos – the Australian Women’s Rugby Union team – preparing for next month’s IRB World Cup in France.
But Chloe’s taken a very different pathway to the elite level. It’s one that’s seen her play football in front of packed out stadiums in the U.S, in a competition that’s broadcast all over the world, with a sport that’s enabled her to travel across the globe and have her photo in countless newspapers and magazines.
The Lingerie Football League.
And without it – Chloe says she wouldn’t be in the Wallaroos today.
“I think the thing people forget about Lingerie League and Rugby is that it is a platform,” Chloe told Sportette while in Wallaroos camp in preparation for the World Cup.
“I’m really grateful for the LFL because if I didn’t have them then I may have quit sport.”
It’s certainly not the typical progression to the national side, but Chloe isn’t your typical athlete. Growing up on a cattle station in far north Queensland, 7 hours inland of Cairns, Chloe was a talented sprinter. At the National Championships at the age of 17, she was spotted by scouts and invited to train at the Australian Institute of Sport. Two years at the AIS and several stress fractures later, Chloe’s dream of competing at the Olympics was in tatters.
It was at a modelling shoot soon after that Chloe was again spotted by another sport – the American Lingerie League (now called Legends Football League).
Chloe became the first Australian to compete in the LFL in the U.S – a competition that is broadcast to over 100 countries and became the highest rating live sports series in the history of MTV networks. Now this author has been critical of lingerie football in the past and those views still stand but writing this, it’s obvious there’s so much more to these players than just dressing in underwear and running around the field allows you to see.
Chloe certainly wore the brunt of people’s criticism and dislike of the concept.
“It’s hard for me to comprehend because I just see it as an opportunity to be a female athlete. I think people who haven’t been a female athlete don’t realise how hard that is, how there are few opportunities to play at a professional level,” Chloe told Sportette.
“People said we’re not real athletes and for someone who has pursued sports at the highest level that really eats at you on the inside and you think ‘no I am a real athlete’, there just weren’t enough opportunities.”
“I got heaps of criticism and I just thought to myself ‘I wish you knew me, I wish you knew I’m not a bad person’.”
Fast forward two years and that’s at least something Chloe doesn’t have to deal with when she pulls on the rugby jersey, but then it does throw up its own challenges.
“In rugby it’s been nice not to have to get any of that criticism but in the same notion I see the lack of support and the low number of people we get at games.”
Rugby Union is, however, currently the fastest growing female sport. Helped by the introduction of Rugby 7s at the next Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, the sport is quickly expanding in numbers and support worldwide. In the U.S in particular, rugby is the fastest growing team sport and one third of its participants are female. Competing in a gridiron-mad country isn’t easy but Rugby has managed to spark their interest.
It sparked Chloe’s interest too upon her return to Australia.
Chloe played rugby in Canberra in 2011 when she was preparing to play in the LFL. When she moved to Sydney last year with partner and NRL player Tim Grant she started up again as a way of keeping fit and making friends, but it wasn’t long before she was again turning heads.
“Nationals came and they were picking 44 girls and it was pretty much my first year in rugby competitively and my first year playing in the forwards,”
“And I got in that squad of 44 to go to the AIS for the camp – then I got picked in the group of 26 and I was stoked.”
Chloe’s now preparing for the World Cup in France, her biggest sporting achievement to date, yet ironically, it’s the one she’s received the least publicity for.
It hasn’t helped that prior to last month’s Tri-Nations tournament in New Zealand, the Wallaroos hadn’t played a test since the last World Cup in 2010. The IRB had been focussing on the progression of the Sevens game and hadn’t scheduled any matches,
leaving the Wallaroos out in the sporting wilderness for the past four years.
Twelve girls, including Chloe, made their debut at June’s Tri-Nations and it was the warm up to the World Cup the Wallaroos needed.
“I think moving forward from NZ we’ll be much better for the World Cup, we’re all playing as one and we’re all hungry for it.”
There may not be the flashy lights, sold out stadiums and broadcast deals in Women’s Rugby yet, but it’s where Chloe intends on staying.
“I think the IRB are going to have another world cup 3 years from this one and more international test matches between it so I definitely love to keep representing Australia.”
Spending time with Chloe, it’s hard not to be impressed with her bubbly personality, intelligence and determination to reach her full potential. There’s also no denying her incredible athletic talents with a rugby ball in hand.
So ironically we can thank the LFL for giving us our next big rugby star.