URC plan to launch women’s tournament “sooner rather than later”

Chief exec Martin Anayi also admits kick-off times in the men's tournament need to improve

Scotland players such as Biggar's Emma Orr (left) could be among the participants if a new women's URC competition gets off the ground. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

MARTIN ANAYI, the chief executive of the United Rugby Championship, has revealed that plans have begun to launch a women’s tournament alongside the current 16-team men’s league. He admitted that getting such a competition under way would be dependent on the financial backing of the various governing bodies involved, but insisted that the will was there within his own organisation.

“Just over half of our employees are women,” Anayi said. “We had a strategy day the other day and asked everybody what are the top three things you want to see the URC do over the next five years. A women’s competition came in the top three of everybody. 

“It feels like we should have a women’s competition. What’s really important here is what our unions are doing, what are their plans, and how can we help generate a better professional environment like they are doing in England with the Allianz Premier 15s.  


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“We’re trying to work out how we bring that about. Does it need to be 16 teams? Probably not. 

“Should we get it going sooner rather than later? Yes, I think we should. I think the women’s game deserves that.

“I think we can pull together a really great competition: that needs to be in conjunction with what unions and clubs would like to achieve, because it’s going to take their funding to bring it to fruition. There’s definitely a will. We’d love to see a women’s URC and we’re just exploring how that comes about.”

Speaking at a media conference held remotely, Anayi also promised to review kick-off times in the current men’s URC, admitting that Saturday evenings, in particular, had proven unpopular in both Scotland and Wales. However, he explained that increasing free-to-air broadcasting of games had been a priority, and said that the broadcasters in question were limited in when they could televise matches.

“Because we’ve got free-to-air broadcasts, there’s a trade-off,” he continued. “They have very fixed times when they can put live rugby on, and that tends to dictate those kick-off times being Friday evening or Saturday evening.

“Kick-off times do need to improve, certainly in Wales but also in Scotland. We listened to some of the feedback from Edinburgh and Glasgow, who said they didn’t want to play all of their games on Saturday evening. So we put some of those into Friday.”

With two rounds of the regular season to go, both Scottish teams are at risk of finishing in the top eight and thus qualifying for the play-offs, but also being denied a place in next season’s Champions Cup because of the guarantee that the winners of each of the four regional pools will get a place in Europe’s premier tournament. As things stand, Scarlets, currently ninth, would be the beneficiaries as winners of the Welsh pool, and Anayi suggested that a repeat of that scenario at the end of next season would bring about change.

“We said after two years if we get into this situation twice, it’s highly likely that we would then revert to a straight top eight going through,” he added.


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About Stuart Bathgate 1110 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

17 Comments

  1. Success or failure of such a proposal would naturally depend upon the presence of critical mass in all key facets.

    Players, coaches, facilities, finance, domestic infrastructure, followers / audience, media…. and more.

    I’m all for equality, but more top-down stuff in Scottish rugby simply won’t work.

  2. I was prevented from playing rugby at school. Didn’t get chance until I was at uni. Some of the oldest traditional clubs were the last to have women’s teams, (when it was an inevitability that they weren’t going away). The crowds and interest in women’s sport is growing across all sports. The Red Roses had a crowd of over 15,000 at the weekend. The Scottish Women’s team needs investment, needs pro contracts and needs a competitive league or if falls further behind in 6N / globally. Please can we not have lazy sexism about how there’s better things to spend money on? Really? It’s 2022, when does half the planet deserve to have half the pitch? Especially unfair when there are so many female rugby fans.

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    • If the ‘lazy sexism’ was addressed to me, which I suspect, it was, you are wrong but you can have your opinion as I can have mine.
      This suggested ‘add on’ by URC, if it is followed through, will take away any funding for women’s grass roots game in that it goes directly to a professional set up [or semi-pro] and that frankly does nothing for any women or girls that want to join their local club and play the game, it’s nothing more than a platform for marketing and sales for URC and frankly if that isn’t obvious now, it will be when even more money is leached from the club game.
      Funding of the nature required will only detract from the grass-roots, or for that matter the miniscule professional club game, I would rather see the funding going toward increasing the derisory number of 2 professional clubs rather than the tokenism of support for an add on women’s team because URC think it is a good idea, a tag on women’s team for the competition will inevitably be ‘robbing Peter to pay Pauline’.
      If there is even less funding going to the grass roots or the men’s XV a-side and the 7’s game it will inevitably lead to the potential of the danger of Scotland being in danger of demotion from the six nations for instance if Italy improve [as they are] and there is a demand for a play off [which there has been recently] and if that happened would Murrayfield get the same gate for a fixture against Spain or Germany?
      Be careful what you wish for was my suggestion when the talk of the game going open was voiced, and I’m happy to suggest it again with regard to funding a women’s team for the URC’s benefit, because I don’t see it benefiting Scottish Rugby for either gender.

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    • well said.
      The devil would be in the detail. And as ever a chicken and egg – more success is more likely if we win more; but winning more means more professionals and a wider choice of player- the latter in turn often succeeds more with higher profile role models, whi just might be winning players, professional ones

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  3. Interesting development but needs much more detail.

    And I would suggest a direct challenge to Scottish Rugby. Could we create a Womens team that could participate (I think challenge is a bit early) in a URC competition? Possibly. But likely require bringing all the players that are down south back. That will require significant funding to make happen.

    • I’m sorry I don’t see anything interesting in the proposal at all, although I do agree with you in regard of cost, as if there aren’t better areas to spend money on. Are they really suggesting that from somewhere the SRU funds a couple of women’s sections for Glasgow and Edinburgh with the resultant cost of travel and on and on and on.
      For URC to ask for others to pay for a platform for them to make money is almost comical, ‘we’ve a great idea to get additional advertising will you pay for a competition for us’? I bet they have a great idea, if someone else pays for it.
      As for the ‘Free to air’ from what I have seen thus far it’s only one game a week being transmitted and the rest is pay per view or a season ticket, just how much do you have to pay for the other games if you view them on their platform? I see more and better coverage on S4C.

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      • Thanks George. I’m meant interesting in the UK meaning!

        I can think of a current spend of £700k that could be meaningfully deployed to Womens rugby.

        The bigger issue is Scotland has less than 1000 women players and how that in any way can support a professional team(s)

      • Get rid of super 6 sru and Scotlands shame!that could fund 3,4 women’s teams and more people would want to watch women play our beutiful game.super 6 is a shambles

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      • Pegj I agree and you make a similar point to the one I have made but still awaits ‘display’ I really don’t know why many of my comments end up on the Headmaster’s desk before it is put online.
        Dom Ward, what is the 700K being spent on at the present, is it the super6?
        Alanrussell there isn’t sufficient support for 3 or 4 women’s proffessional teams we can’t even get and additional mens pro team.

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    • If we wish to compete at an international level, then we need to find a way to “professionalise” the top tier of the womens game.

      However, in addition to professionalising the current players at the top end of the game, we also need to significantly increase the participation levels at grassroots.

      I see plenty of activity across Clubs with small groups of players, but this has to be converted into league playing teams at both youth and senior level, if not, any professionalising of the top end will be short-lived and unsustainable.

    • I think you point up some real issues. Bringing players back is far from easy. They may have moved south not just for a professional contract, just as male players have always moved for a variety of reasons. But of it was just a pro contract, then we’d need to pay more than elsewhere. The alternative is to pick a URC team form home based players, who may or may not all be SQ

      So much detail missing

  4. ‘MARTIN ANAYI revealed that plans have begun to launch a women’s tournament alongside the current 16-team men’s league. He admitted that getting such a competition under way would be dependent on the financial backing of the various governing bodies involved, but insisted that the will was there within his own organisation’.
    Why on earth should governing bodies spend money that is as rare as Hens teeth in order for URC to have a platform for them to make a profit at the expense of the SRU or any of the other governing bodies and more pertinently the Grass-roots game.
    Anayi said, ‘we asked around the office [half employees are women according to him] and they said we should have a women’s competition’. I’ve heard some lame excuses in my time defending some self-serving ideas but this could well be the winner.
    This is just another example of the all too cosy Dublin clique coming up with ideas that either drag Rugby down yet another road that frankly many don’t want it to travel and they are all [World Rugby the Tv and Marketing companies] based within a taxi ride of the Bar at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, it all looks like a cosy cartel.
    I’m afraid my answer to M. Anayi, whoever he is would be, ‘you want it you pay for it’, not that I suspect the interest will justify the expense. In any event it will only be an Albatross around the main competition that in itself, I suspect will not have a particularly long shelf life with the costs of travel and other factors.
    Frankly there are far too many examples of the Dog being wagged by the tail in many walks of life. Headline news the England Women’s professional team stick 69 points on an amateur/semi-pro Irish side [and other six nation sides] and sell [how many freebies] 15,000 tickets, wow!
    Frankly I am fed up with the game I played for over 30 years being altered almost beyond description since the commencement of the professional era, and I don’t care if I’m considered a Dinosaur but facts are facts and the game is being ‘milked’ dry by Media and Marketing so called initiatives to the detriment of the grass roots game.

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    • George, when you say “so the URC can milk a profit at the expense of the SRU”, it doesn’t sound as if you know who owns the URC.

      • Well I am not aware that the SRU own URC lock stock and barrel but the principal of being part owner going down that line is a bit like buying £1 for a Fiver!

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      • George, the URC is owned by the participants. Any “profit” it makes is for those owners to decide how to spend. So your comment about URC milking a profit is a nonsense.
        FWIW As I’ve said I I think Anayi is a waste of space full of rubbish ideas, and I do wonder who is pushing this in this way. It is way too soon to sensibly commit to a URC women’s league, as has been said too many details and structural issues need addressed first – even if I support the principle

      • Well septic+9 whether milking a profit is nonsense or not what profit do you honestly think it will make? If it piggy backs on the existing mens game where do they find a profit? It will be as I suggested robbing Peter to pay Pauline or as I said buying a £1 with a £5er. If it is stand alone do you think it will make a profit? Have URC said how it would make a profit? The recent International Scotland v Ireland 1200 turned up, it is not a viable investment. What income will there be from Tv exposure as it stands the viewing figures are not going to excite advertisers to shell out loads of money. The television companies haven’t released viewing figures however France 4 said 610,000 had viewed part or all but reading the figures that are available its hardly 3% of the viewing audience. It’s easy to say lets be equitable but the financial input isn’t equitable it would be depleting the proportion of funds that can only come from existing money available.

    • however your comments about the Dublin clique are not far from my own views.
      As for Anayi, I’ve seen so many quotes from him that I do not need convincing he is an idiot.
      I don’t have any problem with the concept of a Women’s URC, altho the practicalities and funding are real issues – but remember Ayani also pushing hard at expanding the league into North America. An imbecilic idea on so many levels

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