The race against time in women’s rugby

In the shadow of other disciplines, women’s rugby is possibly living its best days. The next step would be the creation of a professional league, but time is running out.

Posted at 6:00 a.m.

Nicholas Richard

Nicholas Richard
The Press

Just before leaving for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Karen Paquin mentioned this idea in the middle of the interview, even if it is a priority idea for the players concerned.

It is also a possibility that could become necessary if Canada wishes to remain in the big leagues.

Paquin, one of the greatest female rugby players in the country’s history, has witnessed the meteoric rise of her sport over the past decade. Enthusiasm and participation have continued to grow.

She notes two moments that she thinks shook things up. First, the 2014 World Cup, when the Canadians reached the final by beating France in the semi-finals. Then, when Paquin and her teammates won the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016. “We managed to put rugby on all the televisions in Canada, remembers the 35-year-old athlete. We felt that it had been a crush on everyone in the country. »

Frenzy

Since then, the discipline has been on the rise in Canada. “What’s going on, it’s clear,” notes the Quebecer. Matches are shown on TV and the web, enrollment in schools and clubs has skyrocketed, avid players have improved significantly, and the infrastructure is nothing like what was in place. when Paquin was introduced to the sport.

The interest is palpable. We feel a kind of frenzy.

Karen Paquin

Today, by its results, Canada is able to compete with the best nations on the planet. Rugby Canada also had to look in the mirror and improve its structure to allow the development of its players.

Now, to stay in the game, Canada must create a professional rugby league adapted to North American conditions. That should be the priority, according to Paquin.

“If we don’t work hard to be able to make a professional or semi-professional league here, in the next five to ten years, it will be very difficult to follow the progress of nations like England, France and New Zealand. So for me, we are really in a race against time. »

Several national team players, including Paquin, had to move to Europe to live their dream, and that must stop.

We really have to make sure we create a league to slow the exodus of our best players.

Karen Paquin

She believes that local development has improved the level of Canadian players. “That’s how they will continue to improve and that we will ensure that it does not stagnate at a level that is not necessarily adequate internationally,” she adds.

She also believes that there is an important parallel to be drawn between the situation of female rugby players and that of female hockey and soccer players who are also seeking to create professional leagues for the good of their sport.

It goes through school

December 2021, Paquin is in charge and coach of the new women’s rugby program on the Notre-Dame-de-Foy campus. She is there because she believes that the future of women’s rugby lies primarily in the development of school network athletes.

The Quebec Student Sports Network has 17 college teams and 8 university teams. “The success of women’s rugby is intimately linked to the school network,” confirms Paquin.


PHOTO SHUJI KAJIYAMA, ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES

Karen Paquin (7) has seen the meteoric rise of her sport over the past decade.

The former Université Laval Rouge et Or player explains that the clubs in the province and the country are doing a good job, but that it is in the schools that the players demonstrate best to train and become high-level athletes, in addition to having access to the best infrastructures.

The huge difference too, she believes, is that thanks to the effervescence in the discipline, colleges and universities do not hesitate to invest in women’s rugby. “The second they [les écoles] decide to set up a program that wants to stand, the athletes really have the right to good places to train. What makes them have a feeling of belonging and that they want to give more, and I see it with the girls of the CNDF. We train four to five days a week and the girls eat. »

According to her, this is an invaluable wealth that she would have liked to take advantage of a few years ago. Then, beyond the infrastructure, Paquin notes that the quality of play of college and university athletes is higher than ever, especially for his alma mater of Quebec, which has dominated since the start of the season.

If rugby has gone from an unknown sport to a booming sport in less than 10 years, it is thanks to the work of those who, like Karen Paquin, have worked today to pave the way for the next generation. A succession that can succeed in its own league.

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