Three women hold up the sporting armour

‘Game changer’ sports gear puts women’s protection on global agenda

In short: Fempro Armour has been designed to protect women playing contact sports, lessening the impact to breasts, shoulders and ribs.
What’s next: Bond University players will test out the new armour in a three-stage clinical trial and a global retail roll-out will take place.

A new world-first protective armour, designed for women, is set to be a “game changer” for female contact sports – hopefully prolonging careers and minimising injuries.

The soon-to-be-named prototype is the brainchild of Fempro Armour head, Stefanie Bofinger, who wants to ensure women have the best protection while playing hard-hitting sports.

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“There’s nothing’s worse than when you’re playing in your early 20s and then, 20 to 30 years down the line, your body is paying for it because it had all these injuries” Bofinger said.

“We want to get those girls that are playing professionally now, even socially, to be as safe as possible.”

Bofinger’s light bulb moment came when she met Bond University rugby players last year, who had been battered and bruised and wanted some protection gear, purpose-built for the female body.

Female athletes run the risk of injuring themselves while playing contact sports, but the new armour hopes to provide better protection.(Getty Images: Scott Gardiner)

“The most common comments I get, is that whatever is on the market doesn’t fit, it’s not comfortable, they have to adjust constantly what they are wearing, they get distracted, and they feel like it is actually hindering them more,” she said.

“Women still have to wear protective gear that is designed for the male shape and, as we know, we have different needs than a male has — but we still have to put up with wearing protective gear that is made for [men].

“Manufacturers these days do recognise that women are playing more sport, especially contact sport … so they’re taking what is out on the market, shrinking it and then they’re classing that as a ‘female version’.”

Mairead Doherty has been playing as a prop, one of rugby’s most brutal positions, since taking up the sport a few years ago.

Three women hold up the sporting armour

Mairead Doherty (left) and her rugby teammates are stoked to see protective gear made for women.(ABC News: Mark Alexander)

She said she loves playing and has made lifelong friends, but constantly feels the hits from games for weeks, if not months, after.

“We’ve definitely all woken up feeling sore, but somehow we still come back,” she said.

The sportswoman said it’s “about time” a female-only product was developed, for women wanting to play sport not just professionally but socially too.

“If we can protect anything about our bodies playing any sport, it will definitely prolong our careers in the sport that we love,” Doherty said.

“Taking hard hits, with no protection, is no doubt going to make that career a lot shorter … [the prototype is] going to keep girls in sports like this, for longer.”

What does the Fempro Armour look and feel like?

There’s two different types of armour which will be available for athletes playing contact sports – one which protects just the chest and the ribs, and then a more advanced model which also includes shoulder protection.

An NRLW player in blue falling backwards in a tackle with the ball, as two opponents grapple her

From the elite level, right through to social competitions, better protections for sportswomen will keep them playing for longer.(Getty Images)

“Women can decide what product they want to have when they are playing … depending on the sport and the level of contact — so it’s quite versatile,” Bofinger said.

“We will produce an undergarment, which will be similar to a sports bra in essence, however it will have internal pockets where the armour will sit in, so the undergarment will be quite snug and then [players] wear their traditional jersey on top of it.”

Bofinger explained that the prototype works like an airbag, absorbing energy and using viscoelastic memory foam to push the impact back away from the player.

“So it will not create a 100 per cent impact point, but the air molecules in our product will absorb the energy and then push it back out … So that way it will minimise the energy force going into the body, which then also minimises injuries.”

Four women stand together on a sporting field

The new armour will be initially introduced to Bond University’s female rugby players, before a global roll-out to retaillers.(Supplied)

The plan is to give the Bond University players first access to the product, before it will eventually be distributed across Australia and the world in department and sporting stores.

“It’s all about protecting women, regardless if you’re a professional player or just a casual on the weekends and having some fun, because you will still have the possibility to be injured [in any game],” Bofinger said.

The final product is expected to be released in July.

Clinical trial of protective gear

Once the product is ready and available to be used by players, Bond University plans to team up with Bofinger to run a clinical trial where they will gather data in the hope of setting a new standard at World Rugby.

The trial will be run over three periods – short, medium and long-term — to compare impact data from injuries over time.

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“In rugby, there is no standard in regards of impact protection … so when we approach World Rugby we can say ‘this is what we have, this is what you had before, when wearing this, this is how we can protect and make the game safer for everyone that plays’,” Bofinger said.

Doherty said it was a great opportunity, to set a new “global standard” for women playing rugby and all female contact sports.

“I’m excited to see if it will go mandatory for females to wear this, to give us that protection the same way it’s mandatory to wear mouthguards,” she said.

Source: AFL NEWS ABC

    

Author: Russell White