Ever since Charles Monro introduced rugby in 1870, it’s been New Zealand’s national sport.
Manager of the Fillies rugby team, Kelvery Longapoa, spoke to me about the state of women’s sport and where she’d like to see her team go in the future.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, and the team.
I’ve been with the Fillies for over 20 years, we’re a premier top-side women's rugby team which has been around for 40-plus years.
Did you notice any discrimination when you first joined?
At the time I didn’t see any discrimination. I guess along the way there was some discrimination towards women playing rugby because it’s
a sport that’s predominantly run by men.
Why did you get involved with rugby to begin with?
I enjoy the physicality of the game, and that I’m amongst other independent, strong women. That’s one of the main reasons that I decided to get into rugby.
You mentioned that the club has different scales, what did you mean by that?
It means different leagues, such as developmental matches for members who are still learning the game. Then you’ve got premier senior leagues for players who’ve been with us for a number of years, so that’s what I meant by scales.
After the premier league, can they play at a higher national level?
When you finish club rugby, you can be expected to be chosen for the national levels. The next step would be to go on to Auckland, Wellington or Taranaki. From there you could go on to the Black Ferns, so there are some stepping stones to go through.
Any Black Ferns here?
Currently, we have four representing the Ponsonby Fillies. Traditionally, our team has produced a lot of Black Fern players.
You mentioned that you work at a women's prison?
I’m an educational tutor at the Mt Eden educational facility, and that’s my full-time job.
I take it the other players have jobs as well?
Everyone here’s a mother, they all have full or part-time work, and some of them are students.
Do you think that having to hold down other jobs affects the team?
Yes, holding down full-time jobs does affect us. Kiwi sportswomen have had to go without financial compensation in New Zealand for a long time. The Ponsonby Fillies are made up of either students, full-time workers, or mothers.
In other countries, national sports are subsidised, allowing athletes to play full time. Would you like that for women's rugby in New Zealand?
It would be a huge advantage for us. Unfortunately, that’s not the situation. It just comes down to funding and who wants to support us. At club level, where we’re at, it starts from the bottom up. If we work within our communities to create awareness and work our way up, then we can definitely see a change in the future for women's rugby.
If you had a chance to do this full time, would you take it?
I would definitely want to manage rugby full time and develop the game. There are a lot of young girls that are taking up the sport now, and the Ponsonby Rugby Club produces a lot of international players. This would be the club to join to start your sporting career.
When you spoke to Ponsonby News, you mentioned sponsorships – besides the financial aspect, what can sponsorships do?
Help pay for equipment like rugby balls, uniforms and water bottles. It all goes towards helping the team this season, and that’s something we’ve never had in the past. This year, it’s about making the players visible to the community, and letting people know that this is who we are and what we represent.
Where do you see the team going in the future?
Winning championships and, more importantly, gaining more visibility in the community. People tend to forget about us, so we need more recognition to let people know ‘this is who we are', and ‘this is where we’re at’. (KERRY LEE)
For more information on women's rugby or the Ponsonby Rugby Club, please visit www.ponsonbyrugby.co.nz/Senior-Rugby/Womens-Rugby