‘Hundreds of rugby professionals’: players welcome US women’s league

WOmen’s Elite Rugby, the US start-up league announced last month, could create ‘hundreds of professional female rugby players in a very short time’, a US Eagles international has said, heralding an ‘amazing’ development for the elite women’s sport.

“There is skepticism,” said Emily Henrich, one Dartmouth graduated who Plays center for the national team, “because there is a lack of money and resources for women’s sports worldwide. But that is clearly changing.”

New details have emerged surrounding plans for WER’s first season, following a meeting between player representatives and WER’s board of directors. This brought the first major update since the announcement of plans to professionalize American women’s rugby.

The meeting, which was attended by representatives from the seven clubs of the Women’s Premier League (WPL), the top-level amateur competition, discussed player compensation plans and the relationship between clubs and the league.

Sources said that the first season of WER would not be fully professional. Players will receive monthly stipends, although most expect to work full-time jobs. Funding for player compensation, raised from private investors, is reportedly nearing its goals. Teams are expected to increase their training schedules as most teams currently train only twice a week.

The league will use a single entity format, similar to that of Major League Rugby and Major League Soccer, meaning the teams will be managed by investor-operators who own shares in the league, a format designed to level the financial playing field to make.

WER will therefore have a degree of control in hiring staff and player recruitment, although teams will be consulted. It remains unclear whether the league will acquire teams’ brand rights, a concern for more established WPL teams.

WER’s launch statement outlined the goal of creating a league of six to eight teams, although it is unclear which of the seven WPL teams will play. Competing teams are expected to be confirmed in January.

Players are awaiting clarification on details, including whether players and staff will have to move, the future of WPL teams that do not make the switch to WER, and the fate of WPL after 2025. A document on WER’s LinkedIn page says many of these policies are “in development.”

A lack of detail in the initial announcement caused skepticism among WPL players, although sources said the WER board has since been proactive in answering questions, turning the mood from cautious optimism to outright excitement.

Before the recent meeting with the WER board, Akwele “Q” Okine and Amanda Schweitzer, co-captains of the Boston-based, long-standing Beantown RFC – for whom the writer’s sister, Lauren Ferridge, plays in the front row – reported a mood of cautious optimism. After the meeting, they said, this gave way to a wave of confidence in the WER leadership.

Both players described the WPL amateur format as “financially burdensome” and were excited by the prospect of compensation for the time spent playing rugby, which has thus far been something of a labor of love.

“We all care deeply about rugby and would like to play at a higher level, but there are many limiting factors that make it very difficult,” Okine said. “We pay for all our flights, there are other personal costs we incur and we are constantly fundraising as a team.”

Schweitzer said: “Taking into account flights, gym memberships and other costs, we’ll probably pay at least $5,000 per season. That would be the low end of an estimate.”

The need for professionalization is clear, but the lack of early communication between WER and WPL players who will staff the new league has fueled player concerns. While the WER launch statement stated that players would have the opportunity to be “fairly compensated for their commitment to top performance,” details did not materialize for nearly four weeks.

The delay left the players concerned. Okine said: “We are absolutely excited about the project… but many players were surprised by the initial announcement. We have many questions and few answers.”

But, she said: “At the last meeting, many questions were answered and answered quite competently. It sounds like things are going very well… other teams are participating, there is more clarity about what that looks like for our individual club. [Beantown players] We are quite excited about where women’s rugby in the United States will go next year.”

skip the newsletter promotion

QQuestions remain over the issue of trademark rights, as the single-entity model is likely to result in WER acquiring intellectual property rights from its member organizations. Beantown players are concerned about protecting the club’s 48-year legacy.

“For us at Beantown, there is so much history in this team, it goes back generations,” Okine said. “Submitting our name to a competition is nerve-wracking, but [WER is] very clearly willing to work with us and do what makes sense. It doesn’t feel like we’re being forced into anything.”

Katana Howard from the US scores a try against Australia. Photo: James Ross/AAP

The competition’s objectives include developing the US rugby market in the lead-up to the 2033 Women’s Rugby World Cup, to be held on US soil, and creating a player pathway for the US Eagles, who are currently ninth. ​in the world rankings, but at a high level. after Beat Australia 32-25 last week in Melbourne. Of the matchday squad down under, seven players were based in the US.

Henrich is currently without a team, but was one of the substitutes against Australia. She has been part of the Eagles squad since she was scouted for the Under-18s as a 15-year-old. As she helps the national team achieve World Cup qualification, she feels WER has limitless potential in a growing market. She also said that a competitive domestic league could do wonders for the Eagles squad.

“It can be hard to feel like you’re connecting with your teammates, especially when you’re in the United States and the rest of the team is in England,” Henrich said, pointing to where many Eagles players make their profession exercise.

“We have to play against each other and together with frequency, so it would be great for team cohesion to have everyone in one place. It would be a huge opportunity for emerging players to be able to learn from current national team players.

“There is a good precedent of USA Rugby taking the first steps toward parity between the men’s and women’s teams, and that makes me hopeful that there will be similar support for WER. WER’s success will depend on the support of the women who came before us.”

Asked for comment, WER said: “The WER announcement has understandably excited the rugby and women’s sporting communities and with it comes a list of questions, all of which WER intends to answer in detail at a later date.

“However, WER would like to emphasize that WER emerged from the WPL and was founded by WPL personnel. Communication with our player base takes place through a dedicated and purposeful channel through WPL club leaders.”