If someone asked you to name three athletes or sports-persons off the top of your head 5 years ago, there is a high probability that all 3 would be male. You might have thought of Usain Bolt - the world's fastest man over 100m, Muhammad Ali - one of the greatest heavyweight boxers in history or Cristiano Ronaldo - often considered the best football player in the world. These are all undoubtably hugely successful and influential athletes, but ask the same question now in 2015 and you might get some different answers.
In August 2015, The Independent published its own list of The 50 most influential women in sport and it is full of strong, confident and undeterred individuals that probably had some role to play in the change in the attitudes to women and sport. The list includes current athletes such as Claudia Fragapane, Katie Mclean (England Rugby) and Jessica Ennis-Hill (who recently won Gold in the heptathlon in Beijing just 13 months after giving birth). It also includes women who may have competed previously, but are now influential managers or executives of sporting organisations. For example Debbie Jevans - the first female chief executive to organise a Rugby World Cup and the first woman appointed as director of sport for an Olympic Games. Jevans has passionately spoken out about the gender imbalances within sport for many years and it seems the world is beginning to listen.
Women's sport is growing. It doesn't matter what sport each individual plays, what matters is that we are participating and we are bloody good at it. There will always be some that think female athletes are inferior to their male counterparts, we cannot change that, but what we can do is make that a minority. British womens teams have been particularly successul in the last couple of years. With the Rugby Union team winning the World Cup in 2014, English football witnessing the most successful World Cup campaign in in decades and the Hockey team securing a European championship title, we can no longer deny the ability of women in sport and it is equally important for us to really embrace our platform given to us to encourage other women to take part in sport too. It is still true that it is much cheaper to invest in womens sport than mens, but big channels such as Sky, BT Sport and the BBC have increased the spectator side of it hugely since 2013 - a step in the most positive of directions.
The empowerment of women through sport has had, I think, a direct effect on this change of opinions. Women such as Serena Williams have paved the way, showing us that powerful is beautiful and as an athlete you are strong - you don't need to fit the 'norms' of the modern day woman, (norms that are quickly being thrown out the window). Campaigns like This Girl Can and Like A Girl remind us that we don't need to look immaculate when we are exercising or doing sport, and we don't need to be dainty or shy about it either.
This of course brings us to the subject of women playing rugby. In 2014 global participation
increased from 1.5 to 1.77 million girls and women, numbers which are still growing. Rugby provides a wholly inclusive environment for girls (and men) to get involved and I think that is part of the appeal. There is no 'ideal body type' for the female rugby player - we come in all different shapes and sizes, we might start playing when we are 10 years old or when we are 25, it doesn't matter. We all share the same passion.
This inclusiveness and diversity is something that runs deep within UYWRUFC. In my two years at University, I have met more people from vastly different backgrounds through rugby than any other outlet and I strongly believe this has helped develop and improve me as an individual. We strive constantly to show people that anyone and everyone is welcome to try the game but all too often at Freshers Fairs we are met with statements like '..oh I'm too small for rugby.. ', '.. I'd get hurt too easily..' or '..it's too scary or me..'. Equally, we are occasionally met with the negative stereotypes of the female rugby player, that we are butch and unfeminine, but this simply is not true. Yes, we accept that we might get hurt - you might get cramp while you watch tv, and yes I'll admit that it is sometimes daunting stepping onto the pitch before a tough game. But playing rugby reminds us just how strong our bodies really are. And why do we need to be feminine?
We train both on the pitch and at home/in the gym to ensure that our bodies are capable of working hard for 80 minutes, tackling players twice our size and this hard work is something that empowers us. We educate ourselves on how to provide our bodies with the most appropriate nutrition and training, and this can go a long way to improving self esteem. With strength comes confidence, and not just on a physical level, but also on a deep psychological level. Athletes are usually strong, independent individuals and members of UYWRUFC are no different.
But perhaps the most powerful aspect of being part of a women's rugby team (especially UYWRUFC) is the feeling of being part of a bigger family. We empower, not compete with one another as women and learn to work as part of a team that will become a family. We literally put our bodies on the line for one another and the trust and friendship that stems from that will last a lifetime.
So next time you are with your friends, ask them to name 3 sports-persons and maybe all three names will be female athletes. If you don't already play a sport, find something you are passionate about, even if that means trying something completely new - be brave. And if you are an incoming fresher, or a current student at the University of York then come train with us. Try this truly amazing sport, learn some new skills, improve on your fitness and make some amazing friends. I promise you won't regret it.
- Ruth Whitehead, Club President
Watch this to find out why we love UYWRUFC so much, and click this link to watch the York Sport Union's own campaign to get women into sport.