Ingrid Koelher was our first speaker at the Women and Tech event on 14 November, talking about how she’s combining two of her biggest loves – social media and rugby.
As an active and passionate rugby player, Ingrid Koehler used 300 Seconds as a platform to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of social media for the sport, and changes that need to be made to fairly represent women’s rugby online.
Although women’s rugby is a minority sport in the UK – around 100 clubs, 7,000 registered players, and an estimated 14,000 regular participants – now that rugby sevens has been given Olympic status for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) has set out a clear strategy to expand and develop the game to provide “rugby for everyone”, it’s an exciting time for fans and players. But online, there’s still a lot of work to do.
Ingrid highlighted how, while the sport is visible on the internet, photos of players are normally undermined by derogative comments about “women with muscles”, and how female athletes often face backlash on social media. She called for this situation to be acknowledged, and for strategies to be formulated to handle it accordingly.
Ingrid also showed attendees how some social media sites such as IRB’s women’s rugby twitter stream are dry and bland – failing to capture the energy of the game – and existing women’s rugby sites are more for the already initiated. And how there’s a need for more “slickness” in how these pages are presented. She also used the example of a 2012-2013 charity calendar by the Canadian National Senior Women’s Team (NSWT) that pictured players in ‘tastefully nude’ glamourous shots, and argued how the shoot should have been treated more carefully as it sends out the “wrong messages”. As Ingrid says, “Rugby players aren’t inhibited and will get their kit off at the drop of a hat… but images such as those in the NSWT calendar do not represent athletes fairly.”
But Ingrid argues there’s a huge opportunity for social media to support and grow the sport, allow participants to speak directly to their audience, and give women both at entry level and at the top of their game a voice.
As an example of successful online representation, Ingrid cited the Arizona State University Women’s Rugby Team adverts that went viral in 2010, and turned clichés of femininity and fragility on their head. She supported her argument with photos from her own team and club; the sorts of images Ingrid feels should be circulated by the sport’s governing bodies to help recruit new players, raise awareness, foster community support and, above all, show that women’s rugby is raucous good fun.