In the latest of a series looking at the men and women of our Players’ Council, we speak to former Canadian international Araba Chintoh, who sits on our Women’s XV High-Performance group.
Dr. Araba Chintoh is up early in Calgary. The former Canadian international is on the move with her job as assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry in the University of Toronto as well as a clinician scientist at a mental health research institute.
Roo, as she’s known to many, is on the Players’ Council and Women’s XVs High-Performance group at International Rugby Players to offer her skills as a physician, someone who can advise on the mental health aspect and also due to her 10 years playing the game.
“I’m one of those kind of classic women’s rugby players who didn’t pick up rugby until late – it wasn’t until my first year in University that I ever picked up a ball.
“The Uni I went to, we had the national team coach at the time as well as a number of players who had just returned from the Women’s World Cup. So I had the opportunity to play there and learn the game with some really great people.”
Her career took off from there. Within a few years, Chintoh was in the national team setup and had the opportunity to play for Canada over the next 10 years, including at the Rugby World Cup in 2022. So how does she look back on that decade?
“It’s funny when I look back on it with the lens that I have now compared to what it was then… I played at a time when we had two fixtures a year, if that. How quickly (the game) has grown is incredible.
“When you look at the effort and the interest that World Rugby is even putting into the promoting the game that’s very different. When you really see what a big commercial push looks like, what a good kind of player welfare service looks like, the difference is phenomenal.
Chintoh describes herself as a “double doctor” being both a physician and a specialist in psychiatry but understands that if she was playing in 2023, it might not be something she would be able to manage.
“I can speak from my own experience only and I think there is real benefit in that dual career pathway.
“I think in rugby we all love the game first and foremost, and we love that community and we love what it brings to us. And we want the game to continue and we want it to be sustainable.
“Women deserve as much as what the men. But the women coming into professional now allows us to develop professionalism in a way that works for us and for some that might be dual careers, for some that might be all into rugby, and for some it may look like a number of other things because we’re doing this at the same time that we are having children and wanting to come back to play afterwards.”
Chintoh was part of a players delegation at the recent Shape of the Game conference in London where it was decided that a similar conference especially focused on the women’s game would take place, with Head of Women’s Rugby Rachael Burford arguing that the unique nature of the women’s game should be upheld and there shouldn’t be a strategy to “copy” the men’s game.
“I agree,” said Chintoh.
“It’s funny… in those early days when we played, we really prided ourselves on playing the game, playing the same laws that the men had, playing in exactly the same way that the men did it. And, you know, we’d kind of stand with our shoulders strong and people would say, oh, you can tackle too and you play the same as the men. And, we were really proud about that.
“But I think we are also intelligent and we are also really trying to do this right and really lay a path for the women who are coming behind us, learning from the women who went before us and everyone else as well.”
In 10 years time the USA will host the women’s Rugby World Cup. What does Dr. Araba Chintoh think the game will look like in a decade?
“My vision is to see the growth of the participation in the game for young women and girls rise by then,” she says with a huge degree of optimism and goes on to make more bold predictions.
“The eyes on the sport will be so much more than they are now. But we will showcase the real sustainability of a contact-intense, but well thought-out, approach to a professional landscape for rugby.
“I focus on North America because that’s where I sit. But the work that we’re gonna do between now and then is get the other rugby unions around the world up to the same level. So that the 2033 World Cup won’t be a game with disparate score lines, but where those top eight teams, those top 12 teams, will be very competitive.
“Where when the fans sit down in the stadium or they’re watching on their phones, they won’t know who’s going to win. Our players will have a profile, they’ll have a voice, will have a comprehensive plan around what’s important for, for welfare and well-being will be transparent, will be communicative two ways back and forth.
I see the vision. The Rugby World Cup in 2033 can be a real model for other women’s sports and a real launchpad for the future.”
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