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'We believe in the women's game as a commercial entity'

World Rugby wants to see female coaches ‘cracking through barriers’.

WORLD RUGBY HAS big ideas for women’s rugby.

The proof, as always, will be in the pudding. Actions speak louder than words.

That said, World Rugby pointed to some actions at yesterday’s ‘Women in Rugby’ event in Dublin, when the global governing body launched a new “brand identity” campaign around the women’s game entitled ‘Try and Stop Us.’ 

PIC World Rugby launched a new marketing campaign. Source: World Rugby/Instagram

As the World Rugby Council meets today in Dublin, 17 of its 49 members are women – including Ireland’s Su Carty – with World Rugby hopeful that national union boards will move to match that 35%.

The IRFU said last year that it is aiming for 20% female representation in Irish rugby by 2023, not only at board level but also among players, coaches, referees and volunteers.

“We know from experience in other board rooms that the addition of women and the right balance of men and women adds to the richness of decision-making,” said World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper yesterday.

World Rugby also pointed to the rise in female players in rugby, with a 28% increase since 2017 – when it launched a global action plan that targeted a doubling of registered female players.

“There were more new registered players on the planet that were women than men last year,” said Gosper. “It’s the first time that’s happened. You’ve got nine million participants in rugby across the planet and 30% or so are women.”

As encouragingly from World Rugby’s point of view, it says its research shows that 40% of rugby’s 400 million-strong global fanbase – how hardcore all 400 million are is unclear – are female.

Fan interest is key because World Rugby needs to make money.

As things stand, women’s rugby is funded by the men’s game, but Gosper stressed that they have faith that the female game can be strongly commercialised to provide for itself and potentially even match men’s rugby in the future.

Rugby Union - 2019 Rugby World Cup Announcement - Dublin Westbury Hotel World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper. Source: EMPICS Sport

World Rugby is in the process of appointing an agency to work specifically on the commercial programme around women’s rugby, while yesterday’s glossy launch of the ‘Try and Stop Us’ initiative was as much about interesting potential sponsors as it was about inspiring young players to take up the game.

“We believe in the women’s game as a commercial entity,” said Gosper. “It’s about when that gets to the point where it’s going to cover its own costs and then become profitable as well. 

“We’ve always bundled men’s and women’s rugby together but we already think that, on an international basis, women’s rugby can start standing on its own and begin to carve its own commercial future.

“We’re already seeing some huge broadcast viewing figures in France, whether it be in stadia or out of stadia, and in England. That’s 70% of the broadcast market in men’s rugby as well, so when those two markets start kicking off, the commercial follows in other areas. We’re confident that it’s going to accelerate as fast as the growth of the sports itself.”

The quality of the competition at Test level is, of course, vital to any push to make money from women’s rugby.

It is, therefore, of real concern that a gap is already opening up between the top nations and the rest. Ireland, now down to 10th in the world, are one example of those lagging behind.

This summer sees the world’s top five nations – England, New Zealand, France, Canada and the US – playing each other in the Super Series in San Diego, potentially taking more steps beyond the rest of the pack.

Sevens is also a huge part of women’s rugby, with some nations investing as much or even more focus and resource into the shortened code of the game.

Ireland’s women’s sevens team are a core team on the World Rugby Sevens Series and have strong hopes of being part of the Olympics in Tokyo next year, as do the men. Indeed, Gosper can see Ireland hosting sevens competitions in the near future as that rise continues.

Source: World Rugby/YouTube

“You’ve got some great men and women’s teams emerging out of Ireland and I think it’s a matter of time that some big events will be here too on the sevens track,” said Gosper.

“It’s built for it, isn’t it? It’s a festival, it’s great fun, it’s great rugby, so I think Ireland will be throwing their hat in the ring for some big tournaments coming up.”

As well as the quality of the offering on the pitch, World Rugby is determined to develop the quality of female coaching.

The governing body ran a first-of-its-kind ‘High Performance Academy’ for women in Stellenbosch, South Africa earlier this month, when a central part of the programme was working with female coaches.

There were 17 coaches at the week-long camp but Ireland was not represented.

Katie Sadleir, the general manager of women’s rugby for World Rugby, said pushing through female coaches at the top level of the sport is a vital part of the strategy in the women’s game.

At the Women’s World Cup in Ireland in 2017, only one of the 12 competing nations had a female head coach, but Sadleir wants to see female coaches progressing in men’s rugby too.

“The thing I stress is that it’s not just about having women coaching women’s teams,” said Sadleir. “I’m not anti-men coaching women’s teams but there is something going on that women aren’t cracking through those barriers.

“We’re interested in having women involved in high-performance coaching, full stop. Women coaching men’s teams and women’s teams. As well as having diversity on your boards, it’s about having diversity in your coaching team.”

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Murray Kinsella

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