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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Olympic Legacy: The Future for Women's Rugby

It's fair to say that rugby 7s enjoyed a successful Olympic debut in Rio. Casual viewers and addicts morphed into one as Australia and Fiji picked up the first rugby gold medals for 92 years. With the men’s game producing the big name stars, perhaps the biggest success story was the exposure the Games gave to women’s rugby

Not only kicking off rugby’s long-overdue return to the Olympics, women’s rugby was given an unprecedented standalone platform, independent of their male counterparts over the first weekend.

Whether by design or default, many of the teams enjoyed far greater media coverage over three days than they ever had in the years of competing in national competitions or World Cups.

The impact was particularly felt in Australia; the Sevens World Series champions confirmed their status as the best in the world with a comprehensive victory over rivals New Zealand in the final.

Georgina Robinson of the Sydney Morning Herald last week revelled in this success: she spoke about the sky-rocketing effect on star player Charlotte Caslick’s Instagram account, Vogue magazine features and exciting new investment plans from sponsor Nike.

Robinson puts this effect down to that elusive gold medal, and it’s easy to see why.

For years, women’s rugby has played second fiddle to men’s and the allure of professionalism has only just become a reality for many. Minimal media coverage is given to the Women’s Rugby World Cup, the 6 Nations and the Sevens World Series – normally large televised events in the men’s game – meaning very few fans get a chance to watch and engage with the game.

Thanks to the rise in popularity in women’s rugby post-Olympic Games, several national unions are set to place greater emphasis on the female side, starting with the ARU.

As Robinson reports, the Women’s World Series will run in tandem with the Men’s for the first time at next season’s Sydney leg. Additionally, a national universities-based professional Sevens series will debut next year.

The ARU are not the only union keen to consolidate women’s rugby. In France, the the Ligue National de Rugby (LNR) this week announced an ambitious three-year strategic plan that called for all Top 14 and PRO D2 sides to field a women’s side as well as a full-time professional club Sevens series.

The aim is to increase the reach and development of women's rugby within the club structure in France, with a view to achieve more tangible success at future competitions. France enjoyed relative success in the Olympics despite only forming their setup a mere two years ago.

But the biggest change from the Olympics? Women’s rugby has now planted the seeds for greater recognition, more professionalism, a brand worthy of promotion and a bright future to develop. Long may it flourish.

In the video below Spanish centre Patricia Garcia speaks ahead of Rio 2016, talking about her hopes for the Olympic Sevens to aid in the growth of rugby around the world.

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