Women.Rugby paves the way for future success
They’re five-time world champions. Their winning percentage sits around 90%. They were named World Rugby Team of the Year in 2017.
The Black Ferns are one of the most dominant teams in world sport at the moment, and they’re in the vanguard of raising the profile of women’s rugby, not just in New Zealand but around the world.
For many years, rugby was seen as the quintessential man’s sport with women confined to the sidelines or helping run a smoothly operating club. Although the first woman played rugby in public back in 1884 – Ireland’s Emily Valentine, for the record – it was not until 1962 that the first women’s rugby team was formed (at Edinburgh University) and it took until the 1970s before non-university women’s club rugby teams took the field.
Since then, women’s rugby has gone from strength to strength. According to women.rugby the total number of female rugby players has increased by 51 per cent since 2014, with the number of registered female players rising by 145 per cent over the same period. Today, more than a quarter of the 9.6 million people who play rugby in World Rugby member unions are women.
The growth of women’s rugby has been driven as much by off-field developments, as by the on-field achievements of stars like Farah Palmer, Portia Woodman, Emily Scarratt, Charlotte Caslick, and Anna Richards.
Women are playing increasingly important roles in administrative positions in world rugby, with more women being appointed to boards, although their representation severely lags that of men. Raelene Castle helmed Rugby Australia as CEO between 2017 and 2020, and women are making inroads into refereeing positions, such as Amy Perrett, who was the first woman to officiate a Super Rugby match in Australia in August 2020.
Beyond these high-profile appointments, however, World Rugby is putting considerable effort into long-term planning, designed to increase participation and improve gender balance in rugby administration. This work is available at an online resource for clubs and unions around the world at women.rugby.
The launch of the website is an important development for the future growth of the women’s game, providing a central hub for information about women’s rugby and to help advance women’s participation. It showcases leading players and administrators from around the world, expanding the profile of women’s rugby beyond the familiar faces followers of the game might recognise from World Cups, the Olympics, or domestic competitions like the Farah Palmer Cup.
It also pulls together resources such a coaching toolkit for women, official documents such as the strategy for advancing women’s rugby through to 2025, advice on how to improve the gender balance of boards and other administrative bodies, and the latest news and developments affecting women’s rugby.
The women.rugby website recognises that effective marketing has an important role to play in growing women’s rugby. Given rugby’s traditionally masculine image, the key to encouraging girls and young women to get involved in the code depends on breaking down preconceptions, particularly in countries without a strong track record of women’s participation in contact sport.
Those marketing efforts were given a boost recently by switching the site to the .rugby domain name extension offered by be.rugby, which enables a simpler URL and increases the visibility of the website to search engines. This move was mirrored by the World Rugby Union website itself, which also makes use of the .rugby extension.
These basic tweaks follow a broader digital marketing trend in sport, such as that used in rugby, which has seen numerous clubs and national bodies switch from confusing URLs such as usab.com to usa.basketball; from boomers.com.au to boomers.basketball; and from cabb.com.ar to argentina.basketball.
Those moves have led to dramatic increases in the web traffic to those sites, in turn raising the profile of the leagues and clubs. For a code like women’s rugby, which is beginning to gain equal billing at major events like the Tokyo Olympics, this expanded online presence should lead to even bigger things in the future.