Sun 13 Nov 2022 | 10:46

Investment urged in women's rugby after stirring World Cup

Investment urged in women's rugby after stirring World Cup
Sun 13 Nov 2022 | 10:46
Investment urged in women's rugby after stirring World Cup
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SPOTLIGHT: Rugby bosses hope a show-stopping end to the women’s Rugby World Cup will spur much-needed investment in the women’s game after decades of neglect.

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New Zealand’s 34-31 defeat of fellow-heavyweights England before a capacity crowd at Eden Park on Saturday was a fitting end to the grandest edition of a tournament more often regarded as a niche event since its inception in 1991.

Record crowds, including 40 000 for the decider, moved World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont to hail the six-week, 12-nation tournament a “massive success”, even though it made a substantial financial loss.

He said a shortfall in sponsorship and broadcast rights was partly due to a lack of commitment World Rugby itself had made to the women’s XV-a-side game.

“It’s a recognition that it has needed more investment,” Beaumont told journalists.

“The standard of play here has been so much better and … the margins between the winners and losers has got less and, as a spectacle, it’s been a great advert for the game of rugby,” he said.

Beaumont believed a renewed focus over the next decade would spark more growth, catapulted by a tournament in New Zealand that has raised the bar.

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In anticipation of more money flowing into the women’s game, World Rugby has increased the number of teams from 12 to 16 for the next three tournaments – in England (2025), Australia (2029) and the United States (2033).

England’s event will have a wider geographical spread than New Zealand – where costs restricted matches to just two cities – while triple-header fixtures in group play will instead be double-headers or even standalone games.

An annual global WXV competition, to be played by 18 teams in non-World Cup years, will be introduced in September 2023 to maintain momentum between tournaments.

It will be split into three divisions of six teams and incorporate a promotion-relegation format. World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin said WXV would bring certainty to an historically barren calendar.

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The biggest funding discrepancies exist at domestic level, with many national unions choosing to devote their women’s resources to the seven-a-side game.

England introduced full professional 15s contracts in 2019 and its domestic league is on a larger scale than any other, reflected in the national team’s run of 30 successive wins before its upset by the Black Ferns.

Fourth-ranked Canada has no professional setup, representing the sort of discrepancy the sport’s leaders addressed at a women’s rugby summit in Auckland.

Gilpin said different countries would introduce professional contracts at different stages.

“It’s a young sport, so we’ve got to get it right rather than go too fast and over-professionalise too quickly,” he said.

“What this tournament does – with its platform and visibility and wonder – is it allows hopefully more unions to be better equipped to go to governments and other investors and say ‘we need more money from you because this is a development opportunity for young women’,” Gilpin said.

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