Women’s rugby has been on the rise in recent years, the most recent World Rugby review in 2018 found that ‘in total 2.4 million women and girls are playing rugby at all levels, accounting for more than a quarter (26 per cent) of players globally and an increase in player numbers of 60 per cent since 2013’.
The participation rates in both rugby sevens and the 15 a side game has close to 500,000 new players joining every year globally. According to World Rugby, women’s rugby is growing faster than men’s rugby and it is estimated that by 2026, 40% of the total number of rugby players will be female.
While women’s rugby remains a predominantly amateur, minority sport — it is a burgeoning one played in over 80 countries. Support from governing bodies is rapidly increasing as they recognise that women’s rugby will help grow the game.
Why Has Women’s Rugby Seen Such a Rise?
World Rugby have been driving in recent years to accelerate the global growth of women in rugby. In 2017 they set out an ambitious plan to double the number of registered players worldwide. In the first year of the plan the number of registered female players grew by an impressive 28 percent to 581,000. It is clear that world rugby is actively increasing funding and resources into women’s rugby and they are seeing the results.
The ‘Women In Rugby’ initiative from World Rugby with the campaign ‘try and stop us’ is a clear demonstration of World Rugby’s ambitions for women’s rugby. World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said that “by launching this unique brand identity and proposition we are demonstrating our unwavering commitment to growing participation and exposure for women’s rugby around the globe”. These sentiments were reiterated by World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont with his triumphant comments: “We firmly believe that the development of women in rugby is the single greatest opportunity for our sport to grow in the next decade’.
Further success can be seen in increased diversity at the highest level with the introduction of 17 new female members to its council. Moreover, the next World Cup in 2021 to be hosted by New Zealand will be the first to not be gender assigned. All future World Cups, whether for men or women, will be known as the Rugby World Cup followed by the year designation.
The introduction of rugby sevens to the Olympics has undoubtedly been one of the key factors in the rise of women’s rugby. Sevens has led to a rise in popularity of the sport, particularly in emerging nations. With the Olympics comes investment from national governing bodies, rugby now has greater credibility on a global stage. It is estimated that £20 million was invested into rugby by national Olympic committees after sevens was announced as an Olympic sport. Sevens is a great introduction to rugby and provides a gateway to playing the standard 15 a side game.
Where Can I Play Women’s Rugby?
Wherever you are in the world, you have a pretty good chance of finding a rugby club. With the sport being played in over 80 countries from all over the world. This number continues to rise as rugby becomes more recognised globally. Due to numbers and resources, the more common form of the game is 7’s, however more and more 15’s competitions are emerging in all nations.
Recognising the incredible growth in women’s rugby the Women’s Rugby Super Series has increased from four to five teams. These are some of the best women’s teams in the world and where rugby is most popular. Below I have outlined a number of the leading nations:
In England, the RFU now boasts professional programmes for both the sevens and 15s teams. This hopes to boost the development of the game at not only the top but also at the grassroots. They are looking to double the number of female participants by 2021, increase the number of women’s teams by more than 75% to 800 and host 400 active women’s clubs. The RFU also aims to increase the number of women referees, coaches and volunteers across the entire sport.
The women’s premiership secured £2.4 million of investment in 2017, the biggest financial contribution the women’s club game has seen. This represents the clear top down support the women’s game is receiving in England.
In Australia, Super Rugby W is the top level of women’s rugby. The teams replicate their male counterparts – NSW Waratahs, Queensland Reds, Brumbies, Melbourne Rebels and Rugby WA. Fox Sports shows every Super W game and this has increased the marketability of women’s rugby in Australia. The league has successfully filled the gap between the club and international game.
The top level of women’s rugby in New Zealand is the Farah Palmer Cup, which runs in a provincial format much like the men’s Mitre 10 cup. At the international level, the Black Ferns lead the pack, having won 5 of the past 6 World Cups.
The USA and Canada both have women’s rugby programmes that are as (if not more) successful than the men’s teams. In college sport women’s rugby has been recognised by the main governing body the NCAA as an emerging sport. This means that more funding is available to women’s rugby and the number of scholarships given is rising every year.
A Final Word
Women’s rugby has come a long way from the days when women had to play in secret to avoid public pressure and societal issues. Thankfully as a society women’s role in sport has dramatically changed. But there is still a long way to go until women’s sport is put on a level playing field with their male counterparts. As a rugby player and fan I am proud that World Rugby is recognising the imperative role that women will play in the growth of the sport we love.
It is thanks to strong and empowering women like Tamara and Alex, whose stories you can read about below, that are encouraging more and more women and girls in their local areas to play rugby.
Read Alex and Tamara’s experiences of playing rugby in Australia and the rise of women’s rugby.
Byron Bay Bullets
Byron Bay Bullets