World Rugby has underscored its commitment to furthering gender equality at all levels of the organisation by announcing sweeping reform of its Council with an ambition of at least one-third women's representation from next year.
In an historic and unprecedented decision spearheaded by Chairman Bill Beaumont, World Rugby will increase the number of people who may sit on Council – its highest decision-making body – from 32 to 49, with the 17 new representatives to be women.
The ground-breaking reform will give the 11 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. This will not result in any changes to the existing voting rights of unions or regional associations on Council.
Approval to the proposal by Council at its recent meeting in London is a first and very important step in World Rugby’s wider strategy to accelerate women in rugby on and off the field of play and bring gender-balance to the highest levels of its governance.
The 2017-25 Women’s Plan – also ratified by Council at the same meeting – shows World Rugby is committed to being a global leader in sport, where women have equal opportunities in all areas, are integrated in strategy, plans and structures and make highly valued contributions to participation, performance, leadership and investment in the global game.
Both the Women’s Plan and the governance reform proposal were developed under the guidance of the Women’s Advisory Committee, which itself was established following World Rugby’s previous reform of its governance structures in 2015.
Beaumont said: “This is a major milestone in the progression and growth of World Rugby and the global game. The reform is historic, reflective of our ambitions and long overdue. If we are to promote and nurture the growth of women in rugby then change must be led from the top.
“I would like to thank my Council colleagues for their full commitment to this important reform and I look forward to welcoming their new representatives from rugby and beyond so that together we can work to further rugby worldwide. It is clearly a fantastic start and opens the door to even greater female representation in Council and across rugby in the future.”
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 per cent) of players globally, an increase in player numbers of 60 per cent 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 will:
- Drive inspirational leadership on and off the field
- Grow sustainable participation
- Build high performance through quality competition
- Build an impactful profile, inspiring engagement
- 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.
World Rugby General Manager of Women’s Rugby Katie Sadleir said: “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. 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.”
Making history, Ada Milby, Secretary General of the Philippine Rugby Football Union, has become the first woman appointed to Council under the reform, having been elected by Asia Rugby at the weekend.
She said: “I applaud World Rugby for its continued commitment to live its mantra as a sport for all. I am honoured and humbled to be the first woman council member to be elected to the World Rugby Council. Not only does this reflect the drive for women's leadership to be accepted at all levels of the game, but it is a strong statement and call to action for other sporting codes to show that when you are fully committed to gender inclusion, the solutions may manifest in ways not previously considered.”
Other Council decisions
The World Rugby Council approved an amendment to Regulation 8 in order that a player’s eligibility can be taken from his/her adoptive parent’s parent.
The World Rugby Council also approved an amendment to Regulation 20 (Misconduct) for unions and tournament organisers to automatically recognise disciplinary decisions from other sports bodies recognised by World Rugby when players are crossing to rugby from other codes.