World Cup | Canada “takes great pleasure in the disrespect the game so often bestows upon them”
Women’s Rugby World Cup : With the Women’s World Cup coming to a close, most of the attention and emphasis has been on those three countries and their athletes.
Canada is one of the teams in the running for the crown, but many people outside of the Auckland bubble would have a hard time picking them out of a hat.
If you know anything about Canadian women’s rugby, you know that their rise is one of the most extraordinary tales in the game, and yet they continue to fly under the radar after topping their pool with three victories and three bonus points and easily dispatching the USA last weekend.
Even a cursory examination reveals how many and varied obstacles Canada must overcome just to play.
When you factor in Canada’s size (it takes less time to fly from London to the east of the country than it does to fly across the country from coast to coast), its diverse climate (which keeps much of the country covered in snow for much of the year), the need to deal with multiple time zones and a bilingual population, you have hardly got a recipe for success for a sport that is chronically underfunded, like Canadian rugby.
And yet, the women’s squad has been rather successful.
They were World Cup finalists in 2014 and have consistently been ranked among the best teams in the world for the last two decades. No one expects them to defeat England this weekend, but the fact that they still have a chance to do so speaks to the team’s resiliency.
One of just three players remaining at the World Cup to play every minute of every game, star fullback Elissa Alarie, thinks it all gives the squad strength.
“I believe overcoming all of those obstacles enhances performance and brings us closer together. Fighting together on and off the field only strengthens bonds. This has always been a part of our tradition, so we know we are not the first squad to face this challenge. Our alums have battled for us before, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for the many important victories they’ve won. We’re working hard to ensure that the next generation has the same opportunities.
In this case, Alarie is alluding to the fact that Canadian players have, for a long time, had to pay to represent their nation.
Women’s Rugby World Cup
Leslie Cripps, a former captain who participated in three World Cups, has vivid memories of the game’s demanding ruleset.
I mean, it was very difficult. To play, you first have to bargain for time off from work and then come up with the cash to pay for it. We had to raise a significant amount of money independently. We achieved this in a variety of ways, one of which was by modeling for a modest, if still somewhat nude, calendar.
It was terrible. It really bothered me. Back when I was living in England and receiving the annual shipment of calendars to sell, I would promptly mail all of the proceeds to myself and retain the calendars for myself. I was an adult attempting to sell my coworkers a calendar with half-naked members of my team. It was just absurd.
Cripps remembers some horrible injustices where the men’s squad, who were mainly unsuccessful compared to the women’s team, were viewed in significantly better respect.
When I was in Vancouver for the Nations Cup, the men and the ladies slept in the same hotel. Men were paid $2,000 to participate, while women paid $500 to enter the competition. The same hotel in Canada hosted both tournaments. One point, we had to leave for a cheaper place to stay. We joked that we’d like to hand our cash over to the guys themselves. Evidently, things have much improved, but it was a rough patch.
The Canadian players, in preparation for the World Cup in New Zealand, resolved that they would spend more time together despite financial constraints.
Alarie continues the narrative.
Our coach had written on the board how many days other teams, including France, England, and New Zealand, would be training together in preparation for the World Cup.
We put our heads together, and now we have a way to generate money and spend time with one another. We were a group of five living in a small apartment and we made it work by rearranging furniture and adapting some of our ideas to make more space. We said, “OK, how long before this game can we reasonably show up?” before the Italy game in Victoria. The majority of participants took time off from work to participate, which was a major inconvenience, but the outcomes were very beneficial.
Coach Francois Ratier, who led Canada to the 2014 World Cup title game, thinks the difficulties his team has encountered in the past have ultimately paid off.
We’ve had to put in a lot of work, and many people have died, to get where we are today. There is no doubt that this helps the squad and the coaches become more resilient and brings everyone closer together, but it also has some clear drawbacks. For instance, it may be tiresome to feel powerless while trying to make plans in the downtime between large events.
Canada will be taking on an opponent with striking similarities to England this coming weekend.
Both sides have a sterling reputation in the set piece and have scored tries with devastating efficiency from the driving maul.
Though, Alarie is certain that they can catch England off guard.
We have a lot in common with the English, and they with us, but I’m not sure they really understand us just yet. In the previous 12 months, we have changed a lot. Underdog mindset may be a huge benefit if we can pull everything together.
She also says that staying under the radar is a strength for the group.
The fact that this is being kept secret is adding fuel to the flames. The talk has always been about the teams, even before the World Cup began. We’ve been on the road for a while, but here we are at the World Cup semi-finals. We believe our group has been harboring latent strength, and now is our opportunity to unleash it.
No matter what happens this weekend, a major turning point has been reached in the Canadian game. Canada is at risk of falling behind as more of its competitors go to the professional level and stronger club leagues emerge. Next steps?
The girls have earned so much more. Cripps continues.
In an ideal world, women and men would have equal playing time, and Canadians wouldn’t have to go out of their way to attend games. There has to be stronger promotion of the sport there; I’d want to see us raising the profile of these incredible athletes and celebrating their victories. There is a lot that has to be done, and that includes addressing problems like compensating our coaches fairly.
Like most people, Ratier thinks that things need to improve.
“I hope that this weekend we see a clear emphasis and approach to help our country’s best players while also developing our club game. We need it.
This weekend, can Canada defeat England?
Cripps answers, “Yes,” without any hesitation.
At first, Ratier is reticent to express confidence in his team’s chances, saying only that they need to accomplish “something exceptional” to win.
There has been no major surprise at this World Cup so far; maybe it’s time for one.