Triumphing Gender Roles in Sport: Women’s Rugby

I had a friend say this the other week to me, “I mean usually a girl only say has the interest in one sport because she plays it, not just a general interest in all sports.” It’s true still to this day sport is viewed in say a masculine domain, even though we have come a very long way from where women’s sport was in the past century. However, still to this day women and men seemingly are steered towards different sports/activities.

This post relates to and could say a praise to World Rugby and national governing bodies who to me personally have seemingly changed the way rugby is viewed from a ‘mans’ sport to a sport where it is both enjoyed and played to a top quality level by both genders. In 2014 the global participation for Women’s Rugby jumped significantly (from 1.5 to 1.7 million!) with the help and presence of the Women’s Rugby World Cup. Under the RFU there has been a 100% increase in participation since 2004 and since 2013 the number of girls registered to play full contact rugby has raised by almost 3000, making 18 000 registered under the RFU today. Plus this year for the first time the RFU awarded forty-eight player contracts women to boost the support in the professionalisation of the 15’s game, 16 of them being full-time contracts. It was in 2014 that professional contracts given out to twenty 7’s players. This being a boost prior to the Rio Olympics this past summer.

There to is commitment from the Rugby Canada and their women’s program. Prior to the Olympics the government supported the Canadian Women’s 7’s team through the ‘Own The Podium’ campaign. This enabling players to go full time in training and have a full support team when at Rio. This paying off by receiving a Bronze medal. Interestingly enough within the game of 15’s, Canada Women’s are ranked 3rd and the Men’s being ranked 18th in the world. Of course there are intricacies within this and within Canada I believe the opposite needs to happen, it’s more likely the Governing Body needs to work harder at attracting and retaining men.

World Rugby themselves launched the campaign ‘Get Into Rugby’ which saw 121 000 girls across 138 nations be introduced to the game in 2014.

And in my view it can only go on the up for women’s rugby. Why?

  1. The inclusion of Rugby 7’s at the Olympics, this past summer its debut in Rio was an absolute hit. There were incredible scenes with Fiji mens team winning their first ever Olympic medal (Gold!) and the Bronze medal game between Canada and Team GB was dramatic (plus difficult for me as a citizen to both nations). The sport originally was questioned as to if it really had a place in the Olympic programme.
  2. The game in addition will highly likely be kept for future Olympic games to come with the Olympic Agenda 2020 wanting to create further gender equality. This including, encouraging women to take part and achieve 50% representation of women athletes. This ensuring a continual legacy of a code within the sport and further encouraging women to take up the sport with exposure to role models.
  3. Women’s Sevens makes it debut at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
  4. The Chief Executive of World Rugby, Brett Gosper is keen to boost and support the growth of the game for women in addition to reaching further into what has been historically unknown geographic territory for the game. In the last week, he has stated that the Women’s sector of the sport is currently the most dynamic with Sevens participation numbers to increase potentially 10% in the next five to ten years. In addition he stated that they are looking into hosting a sixth leg of the HSBC Sevens series for the women. Plus at two venues this Sevens series (Dubai and Sydney) Women’s and Men’s tournaments sharing venues and ran at the same time.
  5. The RFU and other Governing Bodies proactively looking into how they can create a successful strategy and continue growth within the game for women. Y0u can view the RFU’s strategy here.
  6. Women’s Rugby World Cup taking place next year in Ireland, once again exposure and promotion through digital channels will be high. Plus World Rugby in the build up to 2020 are now going into there biggest ever investment cycle into the game, this including funding towards Ireland 2017. Information regarding the investment across the sport can be seen here. In addition to here.

I do recognise of course though their are areas of improvement still needed to ensure the full growth of women rugby to occur at all levels, not just elite. Such as suitable facilities at all rugby clubs/sport centres for both women and men. I believe the next step is to promote and really show that the rugby is of great quality and showcase how these women really do own the field. Leading to boosting the crowd numbers at events like the Women’s Six Nations, internationals and domestic games. Yet already within a relatively short period of time, Rugby has started to bridge the gap between the women’s and men’s games.

Reference: World Rugby, RFU, Olympic Agenda 2020, Inside The Games and Rugby Canada.

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