Inspired by the #ICare movement, the Saracens Women and Girls Steering Group has made encouraging progress as it attempts to change the landscape of female sport.

The group was established at the end of January — as the social media campaign led by Bristol Bears Women’s prop Stef Evans was at its peak — with a mission to “raise the profile of women’s sport and empower the next generation of female leaders”.

Seven industry specialists were enlisted to join the group, including Saracens director of women’s sport, Laura Eddie, Rugby World Cup 2014 winner Tamara Taylor and Sunday Times Grassroots Sportswoman of the Year 2020, Zainab Alema.

“We obviously have two elite female sports teams [in netball and rugby],” Charlie White, Saracens Foundation’s development manager inclusion, told World Rugby. 

“We have access to role models that could be supporting out in the community and really growing that engagement. So for us, it made sense to do.

“And, obviously bringing in people that had different experience in different aspects within women's sport was really important for us, so that everything that we're doing is very insight-led.”

Following a recommendation from the steering group, Saracens piloted a virtual Girls Resilience Programme in March, aimed at young women aged between 13-18. 

The course featured appearances from the club’s players, including England prop Bryony Cleall, while more than 700 participants, from the UK, Europe and Canada, registered for the five-week programme – 13.9 per cent of whom had no previous rugby experience.

Next month, meanwhile, the Saracens Girls Youth Advisory Group is due to meet for the first time with the aim of helping the steering group understand what motivates young women, the barriers they face and what projects they would like to see developed in the future.

“The information is not just coming from people that are in the industry,” White added, “we also want to hear from young people and what they want.

“That’s going to help us actually deliver something out in the community that is going to benefit those young people.”

Female empowerment

Eddie, who played for and coached Saracens prior to becoming director of women’s sport, believes the group has an opportunity to empower young women in the local community.

“[What] really excites me is around leadership and female empowerment,” she said. 

“Not everyone's going to go on to be the best player in the world, and it's fantastic if we're lucky enough to work with some of those individuals. 

“But, I think that the bigger piece is just around the wider community and how we're engaging with them.”

That is a sentiment echoed by Dr Ali Bowes, who is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology of Sport at Nottingham Trent University and also sits on the steering group.

“There's a much bigger story here about getting more girls playing rugby,” she said. 

“The proposed plans around mentoring and leadership and resilience, [show] there is a huge wealth of skills and qualities that young girls can get from playing sport in the community. 

“And, that might lead to Poppy Cleall being the best player in the world, but that also might lead to a group of empowered, confident, strong young women in the community.”

Collaborative effort

White believes that the steering group “will be something that continues for a very long time” because of the input that it will have from those taking part and benefiting from it.

Participation is key if the group is to achieve its aim of increasing the visibility of women’s sport, creating opportunities for young women and girls, and producing role models both on and off the pitch.

And, there is an acceptance that they will not be able to do that without help.

“We're not protective at all about this,” Eddie said. “As a club we want to encourage this collaboration not just within women's rugby, but spurring on the conversation more broadly in the women's sport sector. 

“It's only going to work when we gather momentum and work together, we can't do it on our own. 

“We can do our bit around, you know, streaming matches and trying to put our players out there as positive role models. But, I think [we need] that groundswell of support and that momentum that's gathered. 

“But, one thing that's really encouraging from a Saracens perspective is we've put quite a marker down that we want to be at the forefront of women's sport, and that doesn't just mean winning trophies at the elite level. 

“That means that we want to influence and impact all the way through from the elite down to community.”

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