Anna Caplice: Female role models in sport crucial to real change for new generation

"I want young girls to see they can be whatever they want."
Anna Caplice: Female role models in sport crucial to real change for new generation

GROUNDBREAKING: Referee Joy Neville in action recently. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady

YOU may have read recently about the family drama within the Farrell household. 

Owen Farrell was less than impressed when his son wore his Irish jersey gifted from his grandad, Ireland’s head coach, Andy Farrell. “It’s grandad’s team,” the youngster said to his dad, who just happens to have 103 caps for England. 

Paddy’s weekend will be a good excuse for young Farrell to keep his green on when Ireland and England go head-to-head. Aside from the lighthearted tension in their house, I think about the influence of having two huge figures of world rugby in your family.

I’ve been lucky enough to play for the Barbarians on two occasions. Both times were standout moments in my career for reasons on and off the pitch. A moment from both tours that will be forever etched in my mind is when we all introduced ourselves and to the other squad members. 


Everyone has done some arts and crafts to illustrate their own personal journey, their successes and failures, their clubs, their families and, very importantly, those who inspired them to play.

This is the bit that struck me from my first tour in 2019. Almost everyone, myself included, referenced a brother, a dad, a grandad, or some other male figure in their life that inspired them to play. I’m grateful that I and others have had role models in rugby, but it left me wondering about the weight of the scales in favour of male mentions. 

I understand that rugby has been for many years a traditionally male space, but I was left asking myself if this would ever change.

Fast forward to my second Barbarians tour in 2021. Two years might not seem like a long time, but two years across a pandemic might have offered enough time for us to reimagine our worlds and consider things slightly differently. This time, when we gathered round to share our stories and a few glasses of wine, I noticed something different. 

Of course, just as before, there was an abundance of credit awarded to the male role models that we love and adore and that lead us to rugby. However, there came mentions of many female role models this time. 


"I want to be a role model for my nieces and nephews."

I want my daughter to grow up to know she can play rugby too."

"I want young girls to see they can be whatever they want."

It’s also not just about the playing opportunities that are growing for women in sport, it’s about keeping them involved at the end of their playing careers and not letting their expertise go to waste. 

The Ireland team during the national anthems against Wales in 2020. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
The Ireland team during the national anthems against Wales in 2020. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Every weekend throughout the Six Nations the TV networks love to show us clips of the figures working behind the on-pitch performances from the coaches' box. 

Filled with some of the best brains in world rugby. All male. And very deserving of their appointments. But some of the best brains belong to women too, so in time I hope to see them amongst the staff in the coaches’ box also.

I’ve been particularly interested in the appointment of Jérôme Garcès, a former world rugby referee, a member of the French coaching team since 2021. What a fantastic addition to have such knowledge of the rules and the perspective from a referee working with your players day to day. Think of how valuable someone like referee Joy Neville could be to a professional setup when the time comes to hang up the whistle. 

After all, female referees are smashing ceilings everywhere and continue to prove their worth in world rugby. Now let’s see the rise in coaching and management too.


This week also saw the RFU release the details of their new maternity policy for English players to be supported in their journey to motherhood. In other professions, such a policy might seem standard, but it’s the first of its kind for women in rugby. 

Given the pace of the growth of the game, other unions would want to work hard to follow suit as it’s no longer expected to wait until careers are done to become a mother.

On that note, I would like to send my congratulations to Irish player, Eimear Considine, and her partner and Clare footballer, Dean Ryan, on the birth of Caolán last month.

I am looking forward to the days when I open up my sports news app to read that a player’s son or daughter is heckling their own family by choosing their granny’s jersey over their mother’s jersey.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130


Read all about the monthly winner’s and more.
Click Here


Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more