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Extraordinary only please

By Ali Donnelly

Sometimes it takes what's deemed to be the "extraordinary" for focus to shift to a minority topic and so that proved to be the case this week when women's rugby picked up coverage in the UK press.

But the topic wasn't the England women's team, who are in three weeks to play host to the 11 of the world's best teams at the World Cup - but in fact it was the Iran women's team who have been competing in Italy this week.

Two of the UK's most-read newspapers, The Daily Mail, the Express and the Telegraph, devoted news coverage over the weekend to the Iran women, with the focus not so much on the rugby, but on the fact that the women's players from Iran were all wearing the 'maghnaeh, a veil that fully covers the head. The players were also wearing full tracksuits, reports said.

To give some credit to the Iranians first, let's talk about the rugby angle to the story.

The women from Iran have made a remarkable journey, coming from an Islamic country and playing a contact sport internationally is a great achievement. Over the weekend the team played in Europe for the first time when they played some Italian teams, losing to Italy 10-and 33-0 before beating club side Valsugana 10-3.

I'm always pleased that international women's rugby players gain national profile - it's the main reason we set this website up - but what a shame that the UK writers failed to inform readers than in three weeks time the best teams on the globe will be in London.

I am loathe to complain about the lack of coverage the women's game gets in national press around the world - I realise the sport is a minority in most nations, but it is frustrating that in a country with the World Cup on its doorstep, press here would rather cover a team playing hundreds of miles away and at introductory level than a team like England with a wealth of superb titles under their belts.

The RFUW and the IRB are working incredibly hard to have the tournament covered and profiled in the lead-up to the event across all forms of media but it's sad that it so often takes the "extraordinary" for the game to get good news space as is did this weekend.

Perhaps some of the England players should don some form of extraordinary attire while they are playing at the World Cup and then we'd see the women's game splashed across the newspapers.

It's all about the clothes, apparently.

Asides from all this, women's rugby in Iran is currently enjoying a moment in the spotlight for anothe reason (this wasn't mentioned in the weekend's news coverage either).

Last week New Zealand film director Faramarz Beheshti premiered a remarkable - and indeed unlikely - sports documentary, which has already been selected for the Milan Film Festival.

The subject of the film is women's rugby. In Iran.

It's taken Faramarz over three years to produce and shows how - despite the barriers - girls across this large male-dominated country have taken to this a physical western, sport. Apparently over 1,000 girls and women play the game (or did at the time the documentary was made), which meant that they were able to take part in the 2009 Asian Sevens championship in Thailand where they finished an impressive 9th out of 14.

Unfortunately, since the documentary was filmed (but hopefully not because of it) things have gone backwards for the game.

Two of the teams featured no longer exist and all male coaches, who had been coaching women's teams and also featured in the documentary, have now been banned from coaching women.

There is no news about the fate of any of the players and there was no Iranian team at this year's tournament in China, but the team in Italy at the weekend suggests all may not be lost.

 *With thanks to John Birch for the additional Iran information