After the postponement of the 2021 Women’s Six Nations last week, a number of people online commented that ‘nobody cares’.
In response, the #icare movement began: a call for women’s rugby fans and players to show their support for the sport. Behind the movement was Bristol Bears Women tight-head prop Stef Evans.
In an Instagram post, Evans explained her belief that the ‘nobody cares’ attitude to women’s rugby comes from not understanding the large audience it has.
“If you care about the Women’s Six Nations, about issues affecting the game, about women’s rugby in general – Say it. Post a photo of yourself playing, or your favourite women’s player or women’s team. Talk about what that photo means to you, what it represents. And use the hashtag #ICare.”
The campaign gathered global support from rugby fans, players, writers, and unions and has since been shared thousands of times.
“All of the comments that said ‘nobody cares’, were just factually incorrect. Aside from your opinions, that’s just not accurate,” Evans says.
“Then I started thinking, ‘why do they think that?’ Maybe it's because of the way social media works, do they exist in a bubble of other like-minded people who have no concept that women’s rugby is happening? Maybe they must, because otherwise they wouldn't have the confidence to go on a public forum and post that.”
Not all comments are malicious, and Evans sees the campaign as a way to engage with those who made the comments and educate them about growth in women’s rugby. “Maybe there are some people who know that what they're doing is bullying and trolling and put it out there with that intention, but there also might be people who are doing it a little bit accidentally, thinking that what they're saying is normal and acceptable, but also a popular belief that the vast majority hold.”
Support for women’s rugby that began with ill-fitting shorts
In 2018, after returning to rugby after some time away, Evans noticed that lots of women’s rugby shorts were not manufactured with women’s rugby players in mind. With her background in retail manufacturing, she designed rugby shorts for women’s players of all shapes and sizes, measuring hundreds of women’s rugby players along the way, and her brand Ruggette RFC was born.
“I actually think starting Ruggette RFC as a company was probably the main reason that a lot of these concepts don't seem fresh to me, because I've thought about them a lot”, laughs Evans.
Her business, alongside playing for Bristol Bears Women, means she sees first-hand the support for women’s rugby, but the size of the campaign still surprised her. “Within a matter of hours, I just remember looking at my phone and being almost a little overwhelmed by how many people were engaging with it. I thought this is even better than I thought it was going to be. It was kind of all over Twitter. It was going to all these different countries and I kept having to like translate posts to English so I could read them!”
A golden year for women’s rugby
Evans believes the postponement of the 2021 Women’s Six Nations poses an opportunity for men’s rugby fans to engage with women’s rugby, as it will not clash with any of the men’s Six Nations fixtures.
“There's so many good things that could come out of this campaign,” she says. “A lot of people are talking about how strongly they care about women’s rugby, and they are creating a discussion in the wider community about it. I'm hoping that we can use that momentum and convert it into engagement with the Women’s Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup later this year.
“I really do feel like this World Cup is going to be a tipping point. Everything has been building for the last however many years, and there's that saying that ‘if you have enough momentum, anything will fly’. I feel like the women's game is there. It's at that point where there's enough momentum in it, there's enough voices, enough people are engaged, and watching and interested in whatever gets put out.
“I have this feeling that in 10 years from now we'll look back and there will be a Wikipedia page about how 2021 was the year that like things really took off for women's rugby. Especially considering the rate of growth in the world for people playing, I think it's going to be monumental.”