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Canadian rugby star captivates Acadia crowd


WOLFVILLE - Former Acadia University rugby player Andrea Burk grins from ear to ear as she stares into a crowd applauding her with a standing ovation.

Burk has engaged in crucial battles both on and off the pitch as an elite Team Canada athlete.

And she’s not afraid to talk about it.

Burk addressed a captivated audience in Acadia’s Fountain Commons building Oct. 15 as the keynote speaker for the Women in Sport banquet.

“As a Canadian national athlete I have sold Krispy Krème donuts on street corners. I have sold tastefully nude calendars of myself, and teammates, to families and friends and club members. And I have put countless hours into fundraising,” she began in her opening remarks.

“These are three things that an adequately funded athlete will never have to do.”

A member of the national senior women’s rugby team since 2009, Burk’s resume boasts an impressive list of accomplishments that would be the envy of most aspiring pro athletes.

In 2014, Burk became a women’s rugby World Cup silver medalist in what she described as “the first World Cup final that any Canadian 15s team - men or women - would ever see in the history of the country.”

The tournament brought the team widespread exposure, proving their players were top competitors on the global stage. But, Burk explained, there was an underlying issue off the field, a flawed system that saw female athletes paying to play while their male counterparts were often paid to don Canada’s jerseys.

“It was estimated that the World Cup athletes each paid close to $10,000 to be on the field in prep for that year… after that World Cup final, not a single thing changed. In fact, things got worse,” said Burk, noting that star women’s team players started to walk away from the club because of the “pay to play” system.

In 2015, Burk said she too contemplated the pros and cons of quitting when the players were asked to shell out $2,500 to compete in a tournament in Calgary.

Instead, she opted to join a players’ committee and support ongoing efforts to respectfully make their concerns known.

“No single one endeavor can be accomplished by any single one person,” she stressed.

They developed a game plan and set out to tackle the obstacles they faced off the field. They formed relationships with decision makers, repeatedly raised their concerns and even went to the media.

“In April 2016, Rugby Canada announced that the elimination of pay to play would start now. No longer would senior national women’s teams players have to pay to put on a Canadian jersey,” recalled Burk, her voice starting to quiver. “And what a win this was.”

But there’s still work to be done.

“I’m going to win a World Cup. I’m going to do that with my team,” Burk vowed.

“It’s about changing the face of women’s rugby and changing the face of sport itself – because results matter.”

Burk believes the archaic systems that support inequality in the sporting world can be respectfully challenged and thoughtfully redefined.

“Ten years ago as an athlete I was an academic all-Canadian, I was a two-time all Canadian, all conference two-time Female Athlete of the Year. My total scholarship money in those two years was $1,000. I got $500 over each year,” she said.

“So, it warms my heart to see how far we’ve come but we still have work ahead of us.”

She’s narrowed her squad’s success down to 5 Ps.

“Purpose, presence, performance, posses and persistence – that is how you change an old boys’ club,” she concluded, instantly bringing her adoring audience to their feet.

Burk has engaged in crucial battles both on and off the pitch as an elite Team Canada athlete.

And she’s not afraid to talk about it.

Burk addressed a captivated audience in Acadia’s Fountain Commons building Oct. 15 as the keynote speaker for the Women in Sport banquet.

“As a Canadian national athlete I have sold Krispy Krème donuts on street corners. I have sold tastefully nude calendars of myself, and teammates, to families and friends and club members. And I have put countless hours into fundraising,” she began in her opening remarks.

“These are three things that an adequately funded athlete will never have to do.”

A member of the national senior women’s rugby team since 2009, Burk’s resume boasts an impressive list of accomplishments that would be the envy of most aspiring pro athletes.

In 2014, Burk became a women’s rugby World Cup silver medalist in what she described as “the first World Cup final that any Canadian 15s team - men or women - would ever see in the history of the country.”

The tournament brought the team widespread exposure, proving their players were top competitors on the global stage. But, Burk explained, there was an underlying issue off the field, a flawed system that saw female athletes paying to play while their male counterparts were often paid to don Canada’s jerseys.

“It was estimated that the World Cup athletes each paid close to $10,000 to be on the field in prep for that year… after that World Cup final, not a single thing changed. In fact, things got worse,” said Burk, noting that star women’s team players started to walk away from the club because of the “pay to play” system.

In 2015, Burk said she too contemplated the pros and cons of quitting when the players were asked to shell out $2,500 to compete in a tournament in Calgary.

Instead, she opted to join a players’ committee and support ongoing efforts to respectfully make their concerns known.

“No single one endeavor can be accomplished by any single one person,” she stressed.

They developed a game plan and set out to tackle the obstacles they faced off the field. They formed relationships with decision makers, repeatedly raised their concerns and even went to the media.

“In April 2016, Rugby Canada announced that the elimination of pay to play would start now. No longer would senior national women’s teams players have to pay to put on a Canadian jersey,” recalled Burk, her voice starting to quiver. “And what a win this was.”

But there’s still work to be done.

“I’m going to win a World Cup. I’m going to do that with my team,” Burk vowed.

“It’s about changing the face of women’s rugby and changing the face of sport itself – because results matter.”

Burk believes the archaic systems that support inequality in the sporting world can be respectfully challenged and thoughtfully redefined.

“Ten years ago as an athlete I was an academic all-Canadian, I was a two-time all Canadian, all conference two-time Female Athlete of the Year. My total scholarship money in those two years was $1,000. I got $500 over each year,” she said.

“So, it warms my heart to see how far we’ve come but we still have work ahead of us.”

She’s narrowed her squad’s success down to 5 Ps.

“Purpose, presence, performance, posses and persistence – that is how you change an old boys’ club,” she concluded, instantly bringing her adoring audience to their feet.

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