Rugby administration has traditionally been a little behind when it came to gender parity but all that changed at the end of last week with a major initiative designed to bring women to the decision making the process at the very highest level of the game.
This time last year, following comments initially made by Sports Minister Patrick Donovan at the Sport for Business Women in Sport Conference, IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne spoke of “female rugby is still in its infancy and it will be difficult to find suitably qualified female candidates with the accumulated rugby wisdom and skill set to fill such quotas without retreating towards tokenism”.
The IRFU did then stage the most successful Women’s Rugby World Cup of all time and despite further stumbles along the way towards appointing a new manager for the Ireland national team, there was a real sense that the prevailing attitude toward’s the Women’s Game would have to change.
Now World Rugby has moved further and faster than many might have thought possible.
It has at a stroke increased the number of people on the World Rugby Council from 32 to 49 with the eleven Unions and six regional associations who currently have an additional vote but no additional representative, the right to send an additional representative to Council subject to that person being female.
There will be the same amount of 39 votes at this most senior level in the sport but the importance lies in the fact that there will now be a more diverse set of opinions around the table
The expansion takes effect immediately and the IRFU, with two Council Members but three votes will be required to put forward a woman to sit on the World Rugby Council.
Mary Quinn is the only woman on the IRFU Committee, having been appointed to it in October 2015. Alongside Su Carty she is currently reviewing the structures and the future of the Women’s Game here in Ireland post the Women’s Rugby World Cup and is the most likely candidate for the IRFU to put forward.
Su Carty will be among a strong line up of speakers looking at many aspects of Women in Sport at UCD this Thursday morning. See here for details of our line-up.
The 2017-25 Women’s Plan was also ratified last week and is a solid statement of genuine support for developing the Women’s game.
Driven by a record-breaking Women’s Rugby World Cup, rugby’s highly successful inclusion in the Rio 2016 Olympic Programme and the thriving HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, Women’s rugby is experiencing unprecedented growth with participation levels at an all-time high.
Latest figures show more than 2.4 million women and girls are playing rugby at all levels, accounting for more than a quarter (26%) of players globally, an increase in player numbers of 60% since 2013.
In order to support that growth, promote greater parity at all levels across the sport and further strengthen and grow the game globally, the newly-approved strategic Women’s Plan has set out to drive inspirational leadership on and off the field, grow sustainable participation, build high performance through quality competition, build an impactful profile, inspiring engagement, and grow strategic, sustainable investment partnerships.
This will include a review of the international competition calendar, leadership development initiatives, such as leadership development scholarships and a sport development grant, the creation of a good governance resource for regions and unions, and the development of a strategy for creating new and diversified investment streams.
“Building on the success of the recent Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland, the decision to increase the representation of women on Council to more than a third is transformational for rugby,” said World Rugby General Manager of Women’s Rugby, Katie Sadleir.
“It will change the way we govern the sport going forward, making a difference not just for women in rugby but for all of rugby.”
“By ensuring women have a voice on our highest decision-making body, we will benefit from more balanced decision-making, setting standards not only for our sport but also helping to drive the agenda in sport governance globally. Supported by our ambitious 2017-25 Women’s Plan, we are set to fast-track the development of women in rugby on and off the field of play, and inspire future generations of young people around the world.”
Asia Rugby wasted no time in enacting the new change, nominating Ada Milby, Secretary General of the Philippine Rugby Football Union, as the first woman appointed to Council under the reform.
Now it is up to the traditional powerhouses, including Ireland, to make appointments swiftly and with confidence so that Rugby can show the way to other sports in making real progress on genuine equality.
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