Marjorie Enya is a busy woman. Since learning in May that she would be awarded a World Rugby Leadership Development Scholarship, the Brazilian has travelled to San Francisco to work at July’s Rugby World Cup Sevens and last month was in Buenos Aires to attend the IOC Olympism in Action Forum on the sidelines of the Youth Olympic Games.

Those commitments have had to be balanced with her work for the Olympic Research Group, based at the University of Sao Paulo, and her activities with the Development Committee at the Confederação Brasileira de Rugby (CBRu), where she is the first elected female athletes’ representative on the Board.

This meant that her plans for her scholarship had been placed on the back-burner, but since returning from Argentina she has focused on such activities, discussing some possibilities with her mentor Sue Day – the Rugby Football Union (RFU) Chief Financial Officer – and World Rugby General Manager of Women’s Rugby Katie Sadleir.

“I will be focusing on social development through rugby, which is something aligned to my values and possibly a good strategy to grow the women’s game in the region,” Enya explained.

“I have applied for an Executive Masters in Social Impact Strategy at the University of Pennsylvania, and will participate in a programme of social project management later in November to supplement the knowledge I already have from my MBA in Project Management.”

Although she may only now be able to devote her full attention to the scholarship, the Brazilian has some bold ambitions about what she might be able to achieve in South America with World Rugby’s backing.

“When it comes to leadership positions, opening up space at the Board level (for women), that’s the thing that no-one’s actually talking about,” explained Enya, who will also attend the Women in Rugby Conference in the USA in December.

The biggest challenge

“And I think it’s very bold of World Rugby to not be following down that path, and setting up an example and saying ‘it is possible, and we’re going to do it’. I do believe it’s going to come with amazing, amazing results.

“I think the challenge for South America, which is what I’m trying to tackle more directly, is not so much the access but the inequality in terms of funding and attention given to the women’s game.

“I have just found that regardless of the size of your union, all the money that comes in has already got a specific destination to it. And it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just how it is.

“And with women’s rugby being relatively new in that sense, it’s hard for us to get more than adequate funding because we’re really the late-comers.

“So, for me, the biggest challenge is to find different streams of funding and not just continue to fight for more of the pie that we already have.”

Enya was, herself, attracted to the game by the camaraderie it offered. Having started playing in college, she soon explored club rugby and joined Sao Paulo Athletic Club (SPAC).

Quickly, though, she says she realised she would not make the grade in a playing capacity with Brazil’s most successful women’s club and so, despite only being in her mid-20s, decided to step into the world of administration.

Rugby's culture

“I met the most amazing women I had ever met,” she said. “But fortunately or not what ended up happening was I sucked so bad, but I just wanted to stay involved and there’s a lot of opportunities off the field as well.

“I said ‘look, there is no way I am going to catch up in technique, S&C (strength and conditioning) or anything else, so I want to help in any other way that I can’.”

Enya began volunteering, working her way up through the regional federation to the CBRu where she became team manager of the women’s national team.

“I kind of sky-rocketed through the whole process, without having played at the higher level at all,” Enya admitted. “So, for the benefit of my team I have never played at the higher level!”

Enya might not have cut it as a player but that did not diminish the feeling for the game she had developed, or what it has helped her achieve.

“I’ve seen what rugby can do to women for women,” she continued. “I’ve seen the level of confidence, of solidarity, of friendship and loyalty, all that kind of stuff. I had never seen anything like it before rugby.

“At first you think, ‘oh, this is something that’s part of my club or part of my group of friends’ but then the more you get to know people in rugby, the more you realise that actually it’s something of the sport, it’s part of its culture.

Driving force

“And that’s what kind of drives me, because what I feel about growing the game is that sometimes we take the values for granted.

“We just assume everyone knows, we just assume everyone’s taking care of it, but I just get the sense that people are not thinking about it often enough, seriously enough.”

That drive to grow the game across her continent – Enya is determined to use her scholarship for good in all corners of South America – is something that former England captain Day picked up on.

Enya explained: “She (Day) was like, ‘look, you have the passion, you want to help grow the game and regardless of where you end up going you are going to turn that knowledge into something that’s going to be good for the women’s game’.”

The Brazilian administrator will need all of the energy she clearly possesses as she attempts to tackle challenges that include social as well as funding barriers.

“It’s completely different from growing the game in Europe, or in Oceania or even in North America,” Enya said.

“When you come to South America we have a completely different socio-economic background and a completely different social understanding of what women should be doing and how that translates into violence sometimes and other things.”

Minds blown by rugby

Enya is stringent in her belief that women’s rugby can be a vehicle for social change. “I’ve seen rugby create the right kind of environment for those things to be discussed in a respectful, friendly manner,” she added.

Mexico took part in the opening round of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series 2019 in Glendale, USA, earlier this month, but in general Central and South American countries are a rare sight in elite women’s international competition.

“South America is the only region that has never been to a 15s Women’s World Cup. We’re kind of underrepresented at bigger events,” Enya admitted. “It’s all the kind of things that make us feel isolated as a region.”

Of course, if Enya can help it the situation will look very different in the future. “I’d like to see a South American team – Brazil preferably – playing in the 15s World Cup, I would love to see us being one of the core teams in the World Series,” she said.

“There are a lot of dreams you can have for high performance, but in a broader sense I would just love to see women and girls in the region given the opportunity to have their minds blown by rugby.

“Of course, it’s important to nurture a successful national team, high performance clubs, etc, but growing the women’s game can’t be just about the tip of the iceberg, or about the flashy things that make the news.

“It is about sustainability, it is about making rugby accessible, safe and attractive for women across the board.”