x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

On a level playing field

After years consigned to the news-in-brief columns of sports pages, women's rugby is finally making headlines in its own right.

Matches like this between South Africa and Australia at the Rugby World Cup Sevens could be transferred to the Olympic stage.
Matches like this between South Africa and Australia at the Rugby World Cup Sevens could be transferred to the Olympic stage.

DUBAI // After years consigned to the news-in-brief columns of sports pages, women's rugby is finally making headlines in its own right and could be heading to the 2016 Olympics alongside the men. Thanks to Dubai's World Cup Sevens, when Australia became the first women to lift the World Cup, the female game is experiencing new levels of exposure.

The question now is whether it will continue to do so or just fade away now that a point has been proved. Including the girls in a previously male-dominated form of the game was a bold move by the IRB; it was also a necessary part of the IRB's burning ambition to have rugby sevens ratified to the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) made their position clear when the IRB initially campaigned for men-only sevens to be included on the 2012 Olympic bill: no women, no bid.

Following the resounding success of the event - 30,000 people were at the stadium to watch the final of a competition contested by 16 countries whittled down from 83 initial hopefuls - it seems the IRB has struck gold. Cynics might claim women's sevens was only included as part of the campaign to make the abridged form of the game an Olympic sport - the last four world cups did not include the women - but Susan Carty, new IRB women's development manager, refutes the suggestion.

"The decision to bring the women in line with the men was made before the 2012 Olympic campaign," she said. "But the timing of development has to be right. In order for a World Cup to be successful you must protect its credibility. "If we had done this at the last World Cup Sevens fewer countries would be playing the women's game and at a lower standard. There's no denying the Olympic campaign has given us a huge boost but I don't think that's cynical. Women's rugby can now use this impetus and progress even further.

"The strides that women's rugby has taken since being run alongside the men's game are incredible," she added. "There is an acceptance that women have a lot to offer the sport." @Email:stregoning@thenational.ae