20th December 2019, 13:55 | womens_rugby_league

How Sport England’s support enabled England Women to be the first to tour PNG

How Sport England’s support enabled England Women to be the first to tour Papua New Guinea and share their life changing experiences with thousands of girls on their return 

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the only country in the world where Rugby League is the national sport. The vast majority of the 8M plus population is passionate about the sport and it is a thread which runs through all communities. PNG is a developing economy with many people living on very low incomes or in poverty. The country is also facing up to serious challenges around the treatment of women, with huge issues to address. No women sit in the PNG Parliament. Almost two thirds of women have experienced violence or serious sexual assault at the hands of a partner. UNICEF describes children in PNG as ‘some of the most vulnerable in the world’. 

The Papua New Guinea Women’s Rugby League domestic side – the PNG Orchids – was formed against this extremely difficult backdrop. As in the UK, the women’s game is growing – inspired by the brave national team trailblazers. In PNG the impact of this growth goes far, far deeper. Women’s Rugby League is helping to change perceptions of the status of girls and women in PNG society. 

The RFL wanted the England Women’s team to be the first international women’s team to play Test Matches in PNG. In doing so they would be tested against formidable opponents on their home turf on the other side of the world, with the squad experiencing the unique challenges and opportunities that come with international tours in an environment unlike any they have experienced - a precious learning and bonding experience for a young squad preparing to host one of three Rugby League World Cups in England in 2021. 

The players, coaches and RFL team committed to returning from the tour and delivering a large-scale series of school visits both to coach Rugby League and inspire young women by sharing the life experiences that can come through playing international sport, in this case by achieving a significant international ‘sporting first’. The national team’s experiences in PNG were captured by former England and Leeds Rhinos player, and now media commentator and content creator, Jamie Jones-Buchanan. 

The inspiration visits will feature several videos made exclusively for schools by JJB featuring the England team and PNG Orchids on and off-pitch.  

A short preview version is released today to celebrate Sport England’s support for the talent pathway and girls’ programme, and the strong bond of respect between England Women and the PNG Orchids who each won a Test match in November. 

Ralph Rimmer, CEO, the Rugby Football League said “The England Women’s squad are elite players; and whilst we are on the journey to professionalisation, all these outstanding players are in full-time work or education. They are totally committed to their performance pathway and preparing for RLWC2021. We wanted to match that commitment with a life enhancing overseas tour; followed by a unique girls’ RL programme inspired by them. Our partners Sport England shared this vision. Their support made the ground-breaking PNG Tour and programme possible, alongside their wider support for girls’ and women’s Rugby League which is growing rapidly. Thanks to Sport England, the impact of the PNG Test Series will be felt in over 100 schools as girls learn about Rugby League and share their thoughts about female empowerment through sport in PNG and in England.  There is no doubt that our sport, and tours like this, have the power to touch and transform lives.” 

Phil Smith, Director of Sport, Sport England said “This Tour and girls’ participation and empowerment programme is a credit to the England Women’s RL squad. The tour shows the power of sport in lots of ways - from sheer physicality to positive international relations, with inspirational moments and people. The England Women’s tour and pathway is a great example of why Sport England invests in and cares about rugby league and the talent system.” 

Emily Rudge, England Captain, St Helens said “It is amazing to think that we are inspiring younger girls to want to take up Rugby League and hopefully they can have better opportunities in their life because of us visiting. I know that in Papua New Guinea Women’s Rugby League is growing just as it is in the UK. It is going to give us a boost back home as well when people see this tour. It is going to give Women’s Rugby League a better platform overall.” 

Caitlin Beevers, England, Leeds Rhinos, 2019 BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year Nominee 

“The tour here has shown the backing that the RFL, the England Performance Unit and Sport England have given us, and it has allowed us to have a fantastic experience. It is all leading up to the Rugby League World Cup in 2021 and I think if we continue the way we are and carry on building we will only get better.”   

Jodie Cunningham, England, St Helens, RLWC2021 Ambassador 

“Some of the children didn’t have shoes on their feet but they still love Rugby League and they are somehow finding a way to play it on pitches that are almost like concrete. I think for us it’s making sure we appreciate what we have and to take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way because there are so many people who’d love to be in our situation. We’ve got a real responsibility now in the UK to make sure that we do that.”