World Rugby Chief of Women’s Rugby Sally Horrox embarked on a 10-day road trip around Spain and France earlier this month to help supercharge the girls and women’s game in the two European countries.
As part of World Rugby’s Accelerate programme, which launched at the end of April following a successful pilot project in Australia, Horrox travelled to Spain and France with a team drawn from various departments of World Rugby, including High Performance, Participation, Commercial and Marketing & Visibility. They met with various stakeholders, from the community game up to union level.
In Spain, the delegation spent part of their time talking to Federación Española de Rugby (FER) officials at the home of Spanish football club, Atlético de Madrid.
According to Horrox, that experience highlighted the “amazing opportunities in Spain for collaboration between sports, and the great passion for women’s team sport” that exists within the country.
“In Spain, women's rugby is growing at a much faster rate than the men's game and there's huge interest in both sevens and 15s,” she said.
“There's a massive commitment from governments, multisport clubs and the wider community to establish this new era for rugby in Spain.
“As part of our Accelerate programme, we spent the week working right across the business. 20 of us sat in a room over five days from the President and the Chairman of the FER right through to those working on the ground in clubs and communities to understand the pathway for both the elite women who want to play in the Olympics, WXV and the Rugby World Cup, through to the community game.
“We spent time speaking about the pathway for girls through schools, through education and through the leagues and competitions that will ultimately give them lifelong participation in the sport, all driven by being highly visible and ensuring rugby is a ‘sport of choice’ for girls to play and be a part of in Spain’’
From Madrid, Horrox travelled north across the border to Bordeaux, where she met with Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR) Vice-President Women’s Rugby, Brigitte Jugla.
The visit to France included a trip to Stade Sainte-Germaine last weekend to watch finals day of the country’s women’s season.
Stade Bordelais’ 27-23 win against Blagnac, which secured the Elite 1 championship, headlined the action and was the seventh final to be played on a busy day that began with under-18 titles for Agen and Dax.
“The tone of the discussions in France were very similar to Spain, and the focus was on the growth plan for women and girls’ rugby,” Horrox added.
“In France, however, we had the amazing opportunity to watch the seven national finals in Bordeaux and host our discussions around that magical event. We got to see every level of the league play and we were also introduced to the top 14 female referees in France who are doing a magnificent job.
“We felt very privileged to be there and we also met their sponsors, La Poste, who are specifically interested in championing women in sport and women in business. Brigitte Jugla did a superb job talking us through their refreshed strategy for the growth of the game.
“Brigitte recently presented her women’s strategy to the FFR board ahead of the Rugby World Cup for men in France so that they can give it their full support. The French board and its management team are now going to get behind the strategy and use Rugby World Cup 2023 to leverage relationships and the profile of the women's game so that it can accelerate out of the back end of the World Cup towards WXV.
“Finally, we did some great work discussing the need to increase the profile, awareness, promotion and communication around the women's game. The interest, particularly in the south-west of France, was incredible. We had 4,000 people in a stadium that could have sold out two times over, and Brigitte, Mathieu and their team showed real ambition to take the game to the next level.
“So, we plan to return to France soon to work with them and to plan together as to how we can build visibility, awareness and promotion for women and girls in rugby over the next two to three years.”