EXCLUSIVE: Maggie Alphonsi on Women in Sport, Red Roses and the 2017 Womens RWC
It’s an exciting time in women’s rugby - the 2017 Rugby World Cup took place this morning and the start of the women’s autumn internationals for England. Sports Gazette spoke to England rugby legend Maggie Alphonsi about rugby and women in sport.
‘Diversity’ is the word of the moment in the sports industry and there is no greater advocate of diversity right now than Maggie Alphonsi.
Former Saracens player Alphonsi made her name for England in 74 appearances through three Women’s Rugby World Cups and 28 tries as a flanker.
In 2012, Alphonsi was part of the England that won a seventh consecutive Six Nations title and a sixth Grand Slam in seven years.
Born with club foot, Alphonsi’s attitude has been moulded through perseverance. Even with club foot, she became an England international.
Even after the 2010 Rugby World Cup final defeat, she was awarded Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year for services throughout the season.
Alphonsi retired soon after the sweet, vengeful 2014 Rugby World Cup victory over Canada to become a pundit, public speaker and ambassador.
Even after playing, Alphonsi’s career has a broad spread. From 2015 Rugby World Cup ambassador to varied philanthropic work, Alphonsi’s sense of perseverance is still strong.
Speaking to Sports Gazette after Women’s Sports Week, Alphonsi expressed a focus on women in the media and how they are portrayed.
Alphonsi said: “There was also discussion around commercial opportunities in women's sport and how the challenges in sport for women are not far different from those in the business world.”
Alphonsi has been publicly speaking since her retirement from playing and has a lot of experience to draw on.
“I use my experience from all the TV punditry work I have done,” Alphonsi said.
More than this, Alphonsi is becoming an example to young women in the industries of sport and sports media.
Alphonsi spoke at the DWord2 conference a couple of weeks ago about the positive initiatives helping to address under representation.
Last night, Getty Images announced an initiative to change visual representation of female athletes in media.
There are clear indications of improvements and it comes down to that word again - perseverance, epitomised by Alphonsi.I am a female from an ethnic minority talking about rugby alongside other well-known figures from the game.””
Alphonsi said: “I have found in that role I am always challenging perceptions and under pressure because I go against the norm.”
“I am a female from an ethnic minority talking about rugby alongside other well-known figures from the game.”
Despite the challenges, Alphonsi has faced and still faces in the sports media industry, there is still optimism for the future.
Considering the next five years, Alphonsi said: “I see it being more visible on TV and sponsors being bold and backing more female athletes/teams. I also see more women being visible as pundits and commentators.
“Where I hope there is real change is how women are perceived, described and portrayed in the media.”
One of the greatest achievements in Alphonsi’s career was winning the Pat Marshall Award from the Rugby Union Writers Club in 2010, beating the likes of Richie McCaw to become the first woman to win the award.
Alphonsi said: “To me it felt like women's rugby was finally starting to be noticed by those who write about the game.”
In the women’s game, there have been significant improvements. Now, 300 clubs have a women’s team and there are over 4,000 female rugby players, according to the RFU.
A sign of improvement was Team GB’s women's rugby sevens team competing in the Rio Olympics, a favourite moment for Alphonsi.
Alphonsi added: “My favourite Paralympic moment was seeing Kadeena Cox get four medals in two different events at the same Games, making Olympic and Paralympic history.”
Today, England found out they will be in Pool B for the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup with USA, Italy and a qualifier from Europe.
With thoughts already turning to Ireland next July, Alphonsi is already looking forward to it and believes England can threaten again.
“They are reigning champions and will make history if they can retain as no England team has done before.”
Alphonsi also believes hosts Ireland can show their potential as well as Canada, finalists in 2014.
“New Zealand can also be good because they will be still hurting from 2014. They have some good sevens players who will also make a difference.”
Tonight, England women will play France in the Old Mutual Wealth Series. They will also play Ireland, New Zealand and Canada in November.
Soon enough eyes will be turning to Ireland 2017 and Alphonsi is certainly excited for the future.
Alphonsi is always taking on new challenges in her career, an example for young women. Perseverance is paying off.
Learn more about Maggie Alphonsi here.