New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) has been accused of sending the wrong message to young female players, after three girls were told they couldn't play in a mixed team.
Alayna and Vianna, both 12 years old, and Diaz, 13, have been playing rugby league since they were six.
But they've been told they can't play with the boys in their team in the under 12/13 restricted grade because of international rules, where players must be under 60 kilograms and can tackle from 10 metres.
"I just think that it's wrong," says Ponsonby United coach Christina Patii.
The NZRL's medical advisory board says the 10-metre tackling rule is too dangerous for the girls.
Instead, they can play in the under 12 open grade where the tackling distance is five metres, but there's no weight restriction – meaning the girls could be hit by kids almost twice their weight.
"I think that it's unsafe for them to play open, for the same fact that it's unsafe for the boys to play open – just the weight range at that age," says Patii. "There's just too many discrepancies and so some kids are really huge, and some are really small. Until they get their growth spurt and they all catch up, I think it's better that they stay within their weight range. "
Patii has been trying to get special dispensation from the NZRL and Auckland Rugby League to let the girls play with their team – but both organisations say no.
"It's when the 10 metre rule is enforced that it becomes more of an issue because more power can be created," says NZRL national game development manager, Nadene Conlon.
"It's not comparing boys to girls, it's just saying there's the potential for injury… what they've [medical board] taken into consideration is the development of girls and boys at the same age and also their hormones, and they don't feel that we provide a safe environment for girls to play with boys at that age."
The girls and their coach say it's not fair and sends the wrong message to young women hoping to develop within the sport.
"I feel abandoned," says Alayna.
Patii has been asking other teams in the restricted grade whether they mind the girls playing – some are fine with it, but other teams aren't. During one recent match the girls were told by another team's manager to remove their uniforms because they weren't supposed to be playing.
"Let the girls play, let them have fun, let them be kids. Let them get out there and enjoy the game," says Patti.
"They can compete and they're very capable. I could actually understand if NZRL game down and had a look at them, but there's just been no commitment to them and it's just really disappointing."
Conlon, a former captain of the Kiwi Ferns, led the New Zealand women's team to its first World Cup victory.
She's been pushing for more young women to join the sport, and hopes one day there will be enough to warrant a girls' league – currently girls can't play competitively for clubs because there aren't enough female players.
"It's a big focus of mine personally, being here at NZRL to definitely grow the women's game and create more opportunities for girls and women in the game – we're very good at the game, that's been proven by winning three World Cups," she says.
Therefore, when Vianna, Alayna and Diaz turn 14, they'll no longer be able to play for their club. Instead they can play at school.
Meanwhile the NZRL is not changing the rules for the restricted grade any time soon.
With the season already half-way over, the girls could spend the rest of it running water for the boys.
source: newshub archive