WELLINGTON, March 12 (Reuters) - New Zealand’s top women rugby players will enjoy a financial boost under the terms of a landmark professional pay deal unveiled on Monday.
Members of the national Black Ferns squad will earn up to NZ$30,000 ($21,900) per year when retainers and training camp allowances are tallied, according to the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the players union and New Zealand Rugby.
“This is a significant milestone for the women’s 15 game,” New Zealand Rugby Players Association CEO Rob Nichol said in a statement.
“It is a long-term sustainable model that offers genuine pathways and support for female players on and off the field, and that we can build on in the future.”
Black Ferns players were previously paid only squad assembly fees of up to $2,000 a week for training camps and international matches for a handful of weeks a year under the previous MOU.
Retainers were restricted to members of the national women’s rugby sevens squad.
The Black Ferns have had similar international success to the dominant men’s All Blacks side, and claimed the women’s World Cup in Ireland last year, their fifth triumph in the global showpiece from the last six tournaments.
But their profile and financial rewards have lagged behind the men’s team, whose top players have enjoyed earnings of more than NZ$1 million per year.
The Black Ferns’ World Cup win put the gender pay gap in the national spotlight, with local media questioning the lack of investment in the women’s game.
In the new deal, the top 30 players in the Black Ferns’ squad will be given professional contracts that include retainers, assembly fees and other benefits like childcare.
Retainers will range from NZ$12,500-$20,000, with players paid an extra NZ$2,000 per week for the 50-odd days at training camps.
The MOU’s parental policy allows players returning from maternity leave to have a support person of their choice to travel and stay with them to look after their infant during squad assembly.
The ‘Player Payment Pool’ will cover costs of travel and accommodation for the support person up to NZ$15,000 a year for each player until their child turns one.
Members of the World Cup-winning team will also be offered a one-off payment of NZ$10,000 to become a ‘legacy ambassador’ and undertake promotional activities to help promote the game.
“Women’s participation in sport is growing globally, and they represent the fastest growing group in New Zealand rugby numbers,” NZR CEO Steve Tew said.
“The Black Ferns – and the Black Ferns Sevens – have rapidly grown in profile, statue, and relevance on the international stage.
“This agreement supports them to be the best they can be when wearing the black jersey.”
$1 = 1.3693 New Zealand dollars Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford