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VIDEO: The key that could unlock the women's game in SA

While the plans to develop and grow the women’s game in South Africa have yet to be disclosed, one thing has been made clear: change is needed.

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In recent years there has been a huge growth in the women’s game in South Africa.

On Sunday, the Springbok Women were crowned the Africa Women’s Cup champs and booked their place at the World Cup 2025 in England.

The team will also host the WXV 2 tournament later this year, another amazing achievement – not only for the game but for the country as well.

The Bulls also became the first franchise to award professional contracts to female athletes and established a professional women’s team, Bulls Daisies.

But even though progress has been made, there are still issues that women’s sports face with professional status at the top of the agenda.

Fronting the media during World Rugby’s Women’s Rugby Workshop in Cape Town, SA Rugby President Mark Alexander said the end goal of the two-day conference is to have a plan of action to establish a professional league by 2025.

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“At the end of the two days we want to come up with a plan for a professional league for women’s rugby,” Alexander said, adding: “With the experience of Sally [Horrox, World Rugby’s Director of Women’s Rugby] and her team, they have done this in other countries, hopefully when we walk out of here and we at least have a plan to start a professional league next year.

“If we want to grow the game we need to have a professional league.”

Alexander revealed that funding is the major setback regarding the functionality of a professional set-up, but provided two ‘innovative’  solutions for the problem.

“For too long it [women’s sport] has taken a back seat in our country. We don’t have enough funding but we want to make sure the women’s game takes its rightful place by unlocking certain initiatives.

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“We as SA Rugby have commissioned a company to help us give a proposal to the Department of Treasury.

“In the early 70s and 80s, sports sponsorship organisations could get financial relief when you sponsor sports and we want to get back at that, especially for women’s sport.

“We understand the government can’t give us money, we have loads of social and economic problems in the country like education, housing and electricity.

“So we need to look at other innovative ways, and going back to companies who sponsor sports [is an option] and we asking just for a five-year opportunity to unlock it.

“Another initiative that we are proposing to the Department of Trade and Industry is the CSI (Corporate Social Investment) codes.

“All listed companies have three percent they put away and go into CSI. But if we are really serious about women then women’s sports should qualify as CSI and we want to get access to those funds to advance the base of all women’s sports.

“As an organisation, we are busy, we commission a company to design the proposal and hopefully in the next few months, it will advance through the government process to get its approval.”

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With a professional league in mind, new challenges are uncovered, like player depth and lack of regular games.

However, Alexander is confident that player base will be sufficient to sustain a professional and hopefully lure some big investments.

“Most of our unions have provincial teams and the player base is there. I think we just need them to play more rugby,” Alexander said.

“You can’t have a one-round league and expect miracles, we need them to play and the next two days will provide us with those high-quality games.

“We need at least a few franchised who compete at a different level locally and later compete internationally. There are talks of a Women’s United Rugby Championship league and SANZAAR is talking about forming a women’s league.

“It’s a path that we are on now. The players are playing better rugby and want to continue with that trajectory.”

He added: “We want to get to a system where when you have a regular professional player, you sustain that player for a year. Nobody can come and take your job after three months, so whatever we put in place needs to be sustainable.”

Alexander admitted a realistic plan would be to look at a drafting system and fewer teams as they target professionalism.

“Possibly have a drafting system, similar to when we started Super Rugby, where we had the Border, EP Kings and Sharks clustered together. So you would have your normal provincial leagues, but then you get drafted into the professional league in the franchise system.

“We can’t have 15 top-class franchises but we have four which is sustainable, so we have to be realistic.

“[Therefore] maybe look at fewer franchises or few teams to kick-start the professional league as corporate buy-in the vision of women’s sport in our country.”

One does not need to look far when you see how investing in women’s rugby reaps rewards.

After awarding 35 female athletes professional contracts, the Bulls Daisies completed a perfect season, winning every one of their games as they claimed the Women’s Premier Division title for the first time since 2006.

They are currently dominating the Women’s Premier Division and look in a prime position to bag another title.

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