02 September 2020

Rugby star Rhona Lloyd tells how Ireland team’s kit launch fiasco has helped fight sexism in the sport

Rugby star Rhona Lloyd has responded to the fiasco of the Ireland team’s kit launch, saying while it proves sexism in sport is still alive, some positives have come as a result.

The Loughborough Lightning and Scotland player was among those whose reaction to sports brand Canterbury’s decision to use female models rather than players to show off the new kit, saw social media go into meltdown. The men’s kit, meanwhile, was  promoted by international players.

In an exclusive interview with NewsChain, Lloyd said: “It was obviously disappointing to see. If they had used models across both the men's and women’s teams that would have been one thing, but the fact that it was evidently big name male players and models for the women was upsetting."  

The issue was initially highlighted by Wasps player Florence Williams, and later by Lloyd, which triggered the social media campaign ‘I Am Enough’.

It saw thousands of photos and posts being shared by women within the sport and forced Canterbury into an apology.

They said in a statement: "As a brand, we believe in putting our hands up if we get something wrong.

"To announce that our new Ireland Women’s pro jersey was available for pre-order, we super-imposed the jersey’s image onto a model to share this exciting development with our dedicated female players and fans.  

“It was always, and remains, our intention to photograph female players in the new jersey and we remain committed to supporting the talented women in our rugby community on and off the field.”

Lloyd said women’s rugby players have ‘earned the right’ to promote their own kit after working their entire lives to play for their country. 

"We're always pushing for more media coverage and knowing a lot of the Ireland girls there is a lot of them that would have absolutely thrived doing that and would have been a fantastic representation of the jersey.

"But actually although it was disappointing that that happened, the conversations that have come off the back of it have been extremely positive. For Canterbury, less than a week later, to have a change of policy to include female athletes is a massive step in the right direction

“It definitely highlighted how far we still have to go. It was also cool, me as a female rugby player had a reaction to it but parents, photographers of the game, coaches, people outside of the community, male rugby players stepped up and that was so pleasing to see." 

Lloyd said she regretted getting embroiled in the twitter storm that took off, particularly with regard to one user who commented on players’ body images.

“I think he got a lot of stick online which I almost felt bad for in the end, but my initial reaction was 'that's completely wrong’. I tweeted about it and said it doesn’t represent any knowledge of the female game but I regret reacting like that because I made it about looks,” says Lloyd.

“There is a side of it where he is completely wrong, there are plenty of female international rugby players who would look amazing in the kit and do a great job of modelling it. But also the main underlying thing is that it's not about what athletes look like, it's the fact you work your whole life to earn the right to wear that kit so you should be the one who is promoting it.”

Countless players within the women’s game spoke out about the sexism they had experienced and, to Lloyd’s surprise, many of her own team-mates had their own stories.

“I had team-mates that put their stories up of the sexism they have experienced and people I consider to be pretty good friends, I didn't know that they had been through things like that at all," she said.

“And I guess the other thing I noticed that everybody, regardless of what they looked like or what level they played at, had experienced some sort of sexism playing women's sport so it definitely highlighted how much needs to be done.”

And though her team-mates experiences surprised her, Lloyd said she encounters sexism on a regular basis.

"I think it's more microaggressions, like people being surprised that you play rugby, I get that a lot. Or when the team are in a service station on the way to games people will be like ‘are you a hockey team’ or ‘are you a netball team’.

“There’s definitely still a stigma surrounding rugby, that it’s a male dominated sport and we need to break that down and Canterbury with the jersey launch missed a big opportunity to do that. They have righted that now but they definitely could have fought that a little using female athletes to promote the jersey.”

Breaking down stereotypes is at the heart of the I Am Enough campaign which seeks to empower all women playing sport. 

Lloyd says it is important for the many young girls getting into the sport so they can ‘see what they can be and be comfortable playing rugby’.

The 23 year-old has previously spoken about struggling with body image issues growing up. 

"Honestly when I first started playing rugby I watched Edinburgh men play so all my favourite players were men and it was almost like I didn't know an international pathway existed. Then as I got older I started looking up to Scotland women's players.

"A massive [turning point] for me was when I played in what I think is called the UK School Games now, it's like an U16 tournament, and met Maggie Alphonsi there who played for England. That was at a time where Scotland were trying to make us do weights and I really didn't want to as in my head it was like ‘oh that’s what boys do, I don’t want to look like a boy’. 

“But she was so athletic and so muscley and girls were asking her to get her guns out and I was like she is the coolest person and she's one of the best players in the world. 

"That was a turning point for me in terms of if I want to be successful in the sport I am going to have to embrace not looking like other girls do or what girls in magazines look like.”

And it has now come full circle as she has become a role model for girls getting into the game.

“It's absolutely mad! I got a message before from a girl who did canoeing that said it was cool seeing my Instagram posts and seeing that girls can be muscley and that highlights to me how desperate young girls are for role models.

“You can learn from everybody from all different sports and it's important to be visible and to use the small platform that you've got.”

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