Golden Girls! How Women’s Rugby has Changed & the Media has Changed Too
By Sam Squiers
“Women’s rugby? Nobody wants to watch women playing rugby.”
This was the reaction I received back in 2008 when I first pitched the idea of doing a story on a local girl who had just made the Australian Rugby Team.
Her name was Nicole Beck.
Rugby wasn’t a part of the Olympics then and the Women’s Sevens game was just being developed.
Beck was an Australian Touch Footballer who was making the switch to Rugby (15s) and wanted to play sevens as well. Many in my newsroom couldn’t work out why she would make that change nor why I was doing the story.
I persisted and made a bloody good story out of it. It wasn’t hard. Getting the green light to do was my biggest hurdle.
Fast forward eight years and Rugby has just taken centre stage at the Olympics
Fast forward eight years and Rugby has just taken centre stage at the Olympics and Nicole? Well she now has a gold medal around her neck after starring for Australia in their thrilling 24-17 final against New Zealand.
“So much has changed,” Nicole told Sportette before leaving for the Games.
“Sevens wasn’t on the cards for the Olympics then… 2009 was going to be the inaugural Women’s (Sevens) World Cup so you had to play 15s to play Sevens.”
Nicole played that World Cup which Australia went on to win while in the same year the International Olympic Committee confirmed that Sevens would be played at the Olympics from 2016.
Women’s Rugby was about to turn professional. Selected players were about to be awarded ARU contracts, salaries to train full time and a new base at Narrabeen (in Sydney’s Northern Beaches) where the girls would live together.
That, however, wasn’t the biggest change for the 28 year old though. In 2013 she became a mum, giving birth to a little girl, Sophie.
An amazing @GettySport pic of new gold medallist Nicole Beck with her daughter Sophie.
What a day. pic.twitter.com/lugy0jrNdU
— AUS Olympic Team (@AUSOlympicTeam) August 9, 2016
“I always knew I wanted to have kids but with sport it made it tricky, there was never a good time to take a break,”
“I probably ended up having a baby earlier than I expected but it’s pretty much worked out to be perfect timing. She gave me enough time to come back and earn a full time spot in the side.”
But that was no easy task.
“For me I had a bit of a troubled labour and I wasn’t running until seven months afterwards so that pushed my start back,” Nicole tells Sportete.
“So once I was allowed to run, I played a touch football tournament a week after I was given the green light and then I played my first sevens tournament a week after that.”
“I just went in full ball, got straight back into everything I could and just didn’t stop.”
There had been a change over of coaching staff while Nicole was on maternity leave which meant she was, in a way, starting from scratch. Determined to get back in the squad, she made sure she made every tournament and training session to expose herself as much as possible to the new faces.
Her efforts were eventually rewarded with a full time contract with Australian Rugby and they knew Nicole didn’t come alone.
“When they offered me a contract they knew I had Sophie. Some days Sophie comes into training and that’s fine,”
“She has 19 extra aunties, the girls really love her. The program really supports me in whichever ways they can.”
At the moment one of the bigger challenges is managing money, so hopefully the gap keeps closing between the men’s and women’s wages
The support has been rewarded for Australian Rugby as well with Beck a vital part of this side she calls her extended family and history will remember as the first team to win Rugby Sevens gold at the Olympics.
“We’re all friends off the field as well which is a key to our success, we enjoy each other’s company everyone wants to work hard for each other.”
And now, after Australia won Olympic Gold, journalists, like myself, aren’t facing the same reactions we used to when pitching women’s rugby stories.
The game and the media’s reaction to the sport has developed so much in the past eight years since Nicole and I first met but there’s still so much more that can be done.
“Hopefully we stay professional and wages are increasing,” Nicole says.
“At the moment one of the bigger challenges is managing money, so hopefully the gap keeps closing between the men’s and women’s wages and the opportunities keep growing.”
Here’s hoping in another eight years we’ll again be able to reflect on those changes too.