Both Australia’s men and women’s teams won their respective competitions in the HSBC Sydney Sevens on Sunday, in what was the first time the two sexes have played a three-day rugby sevens tournament. The women, in particular, were in sensational form – played six; won six; 213 points scored; zero conceded. They were evidently buoyed by the recent news that Rugby Australia has taken the unprecedented step of handing equal base pay to women and men. On the eve of the Sydney competition, Australian Times caught up with co-captains Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry to discuss the recent pay parity agreement, and prospects for an exciting season.
Australian Times: Earlier in January, and for the first time in history, Rugby Australia announced it had taken the progressive – and, for many, long overdue – step to pay parity. (The entry-level salary of A$44,500 (£25,260) will stretch across all formats of rugby in Australia until at least 2020, when the present broadcast deal expires.) How does it feel for you personally to be awarded equal pay with the men?
Shannon Parry: It is phenomenal firstly for Australian women’s rugby to be included in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and then to have the payment parity is fantastic for women’s sport – in this country and across the world. It is thanks to a lot of hard work from the Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) and Rugby Australia. It’s amazing to think how quickly we have moved from the amateur level.
Sharni Williams: The pay parity will make Australia thrive. We are proud to be the first union to achieve equal pay. It will not only build women’s sport but it will also help men’s sport. Everybody is talking about equality at the moment, and it is so exciting that our nation is leading the way with our sport. I’m sure others will follow – in sport and other areas.
AT: On January 24 an HSBC Women in Sports report, which surveyed over 600 females in Australia, found that almost all respondents (98 per cent) said that playing team sports increased their professional confidence, and the same percentage agreed that involvement in team sports contributes to a successful career. Your Olympic glory in 2016 has been instrumental in inspiring Australian women to take up, or continue, playing sport … and now this par parity. It’s incredible.
SP: That gold medal has been fantastic for the growth of women’s rugby in Australia, and it has helped developed all levels, from the grass roots to the top. Now we have a clear pathway for women’s 7s and 15s players, with the introduction of the Super W, which is starting in March, as well as the new Aon University Sevens Series. It is clear that youngsters can make it all the way to become an Olympic champion or win the World Cup.
AT: You’re playing across the same three days as the men in Sydney, how big is that for the team?
SP: It is absolutely huge to be able to play alongside the men, especially to have the finals on the same day. It’s a fantastic step for the HSBC Sevens Series. It’s an added bonus that it is Australia Day weekend, so hopefully everyone will get down to the Allianz Stadium and support the Australian team as we try to do our best in Sydney.
SW: We played alongside the men in Dubai, which is one of the best tournaments. That parity needs to happen at most other stops that we have, because it increases the community feel, it brings more people to watch, and it also brings out a quality as well – you’re not just watching the men, you’re watching the women playing. It’s a great two-for-one deal. Sydney’s going to be amazing, for continuing that parity, but I think the rest of the stops need to really focus on that as well.
AT: In December you kicked off the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in Dubai with victory. How important was it to chalk off that triumph in this massive year – with the Commonwealth Games and World Cup on the horizon – and after last season’s overall second-placed finish to New Zealand?
SW: It was huge for us to come out with that win. We’d put so much effort into rebuilding a team, and in our pre-season the girls did a lot of miles. We’ve been building a new culture, helping each other out. Last season was pretty tough, coming second, but we don’t lose – we learn. We’ve definitely learnt from those losses and we’re taking in those learners to this season and to cap it off with Dubai and winning there was massive to show that we have learnt and that we are capable of staying at the top.
AT: It’s a big year with the Commonwealth Games and World Cup coming up too, alongside the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series. What are your goals for the season?
SW: If I were to pick one of the three titles I would choose success at the Commonwealth Games. Being the inaugural event, and it being at home, will be a huge driving force. To win that and add it to our Olympic gold medal would be pretty special.
SP: It’s a huge year. First up is Sydney, in the HSBC Sevens Series, and then we have the Commonwealth Games on home soil – it will be the first time women’s rugby features, so that will be special. Finally it’s the World Cup in San Francisco. Three bigs ones in a year. We need to achieve a constant good performance across the board. A great way to start will be with victory in Sydney this weekend.