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Canada plea for financial backing

The success of women such as rugby star Heather Moyse at the Winter Olympics has put the spotlight on women's sports at the highest levels in Canada. Team members of Canda's women's rugby squad over the past four years have paid over £20,000 to represent their country. Meghan Mutrie reports as Rugby Canada attempt to attract sponsors and funding.

One would be hard-pressed to find a member of Canadas rugby community that didnt proudly watch the national women's rugby player Heather Moyse push Canada to a gold medal last week in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Canadas women swept gold and silver in the two-man bobsled event where Moyse, the 2006 Womens Rugby World Cups top try scorer, was brakeman for Kaillie Humphries, whom she used to compete against as a brakeman four years ago.

Moyse and Humphries gold and Helen Upperton and Shelly-Ann Browns silver medals continued a striking gender trend at the 2010 Winter Olympics: as of their win on that Wednesday night, Canadas women had won 12 of our countrys 16 medals.

The media is arguing the reason for Canadas women winning the lionesses share of the medals is because of the size difference of the depth pool for each sexual category, or that it is because of a financial overcompensation to achieve gender equity.

Whatever the reason, the results show that when Canadas female athletes receive the funding and support to compete at the highest level, they will turn that investment into podium performances.

This trend is not isolated to athletics: Stats Canada reported in the first half of 2009, for the first time in history, women outnumbered men in the workforce.

The dramatic financial empowerment is in part due to the harsh global economic climate, but as the December 2009 issue of The Economist reasoned, the feminization of the workforce has been driven by the rise of the service sector, and by the fall of the manufacturing sector.

What is especially remarkable of this statistic, said The Economist, is how little friction it has caused, it is not a feminist movement by any means: a change that affects the most intimate aspects of peoples identities has been widely welcomed by men as well as women.

Unfortunately for our nation's women's rugby side, only half of this movement has reached Rugby Canada.

Although the Canadian women are 10 positions higher than their male counterparts on the IRB World Rankings, they receive limited funding because the IRBs financial commitment to each nation is dependent on where the international mens program places.

Because of this, since the 2006 World Cup, the Canada women's rugby side has operated on a pay-to-play basis, with each tour averaging a cost of $3000 (2,000) for each athlete. For players who have been on the roster for the past four years, the cost of representing their country (2-4 events per year) totals roughly $36 000 (23,000) And that number is growing.

With two more events planned before the 2010 World Cup in August, the players will be asked to dig into their own pockets again, for at least another $6000 (4,000)

A tour to New Zealand to play the World Champion Black Ferns was cancelled this week due to the reality of both nations unable to financially back the event, even within a World Cup year.

Canada is currently exploring options for another international fixture prior to Augusts 2010 World Cup, and will be using the same dates the NZ tour was originally supposed to be held on for a domestic competition, but the news is a blow to the national women's rugby programme.

Prior to this cancellation, the NZRU had come under fire for cutting the womens National Provincial Championship (NPC), New Zealands provincial competition, due to budget constraints. This means that the Black Ferns, who were most recently defeated by England at Twickenham in November, will likely have no more international tests before August when they attempt to defend their title.

On the heels of this truly remarkable Olympic movement that has swept our nation and given typically modest Canadians an outlet for their pride, womens national level rugby has sadly been left behind.

The Federal budget, released Thursday, allocates $62 million for encouraging participation in amateur sports, with the majority of the funding going towards Olympic athletes. The Own the Podium program has had its budget doubled over each of the next two years.

This leaves the national Canada women's rugby team in an awkward position.

As Canadians, the Vancouver Olympics and recent budget distribution evoked the same pride and patriotism as the rest of their country, but as Canadian national athletes for a non-Olympic sport, it has been somewhat bittersweet, especially as more of their own money continues to go towards competing for Canada internationally.

The women who make up the women's rugby side are typical Canadians: humble, hard-nosed, hard working, and reluctant to accept or ask for any sort of help, especially financial.

If it is possible for the Olympics to unite Canada even further, please let it inspire you to extend your support to a non-Olympic sport, in a critical year for the women just six months out from their version of the Olympics.

The Canada team is currently ranked fourth in the world, but in the same way that Own the Podium unapologetically but successfully- pushed Canadian athletes to top-three performances, Canada has outwardly committed to a top-three finish at the 2010 World Cup.

And even though they would never ask, they need help.

Canadas medal count for 2010 doesnt lie: if Canadian athletes especially the women- receive the financial backing, they will work as hard as they can to turn that investment into gold.

If you or your company are interested in sponsoring the Canada women's rugby team, or an individual player, in any capacity (in-kind sponsorship or financial aid) towards the 2010 World Cup, please contact Kristy Martin Hale: kmartin@rugbycanada.ca.

Any support is greatly appreciated.

To become a fan of Canadas NSWT on facebook, where you will get weekly updates and insider info on the squad, including a chance to read their blogs while on tour, follow this link: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Canadas-National-Senior-Womens-Rugby-Team/273546121027