Rugby World Cup 2021 will feature the most advanced player welfare standards ever delivered at a rugby event, World Rugby has confirmed.

Speaking as final preparations are being made to welcome the world’s top teams to New Zealand, the international federation’s Chief Executive Alan Gilpin says that the event will showcase the best of women in sport on and off the field., including leading player welfare programmes.

“The success of the Lionesses and the Euros as a whole captivated a nation and it has challenged us all to embrace the enormous opportunity and power of women in sport, which we are doing,” said Gilpin. “We are the next big cab off the rank in this transformational year of women’s sport with a ground-breaking Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, which will be big in many ways.

“For the world’s best women to realise their potential on the world’s biggest stages we need to walk the talk and deliver a world-class experience at our major events. And that is what we are doing in New Zealand.

World Rugby’s approach to medical standards and support in New Zealand will see a number of new innovations implemented, including all teams having access to smart mouthguards to help measure the frequency and nature of head impacts and validate the guidance on limits to contact training, all geared towards injury-prevention. It will also be the first rugby tournament to have mental wellbeing support made available to all participants. This is in addition to the latest concussion identification and management protocols as well as player and coach education. 

“Rugby World Cup 2021 will feature the most advanced and comprehensive player welfare standards ever seen at a rugby event. From smart mouthguards and the latest concussion identification methods to mental wellbeing support, it will showcase the very latest in medicine, science and technology, which is really exciting.

“This is hugely important to us, not just because we are all working hard to advance welfare in rugby, but because we recognise that we must adopt a different approach for our female athletes, not simply replicate what we do for the men.”

The chair of World Rugby’s women’s player welfare working group says that the standards have been born from a dedicated focus on the women’s game, a key pillar of World Rugby’s six-point plan to cement the sport as the most progressive on player welfare.

“World Rugby has given us the mandate and resources to change the game – an opportunity that we are embracing with open arms,” said Dr Araba Chintoh, a former Canada international, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and a Capgemini Women in Rugby leadership programme recipient.

Dr Chintoh is leading the charge on the federation’s dedicated focus on women’s welfare, injury-prevention and mental wellbeing in rugby, and the initial work of the group will be on display in New Zealand in October and November.

“Women’s welfare considerations are often very different to men and therefore we cannot approach them the same way. We are specifically looking at dedicated women’s research, education, laws advances and injury-prevention programmes. Our role is to both help protect and support women players. We have a knowledgeable and  passionate group of people and World Rugby are fully supportive.

“This year alone, World Rugby has  invested more than £500,000 in five research projects, specifically focused on concussion, injury-prevention and former player health. This research will help us shape a better, safer and more accessible game that women, girls and boys want to play, and their parents want them to play.

“The benefits of playing a team sport like rugby are enormous, especially at the community level which 99 per cent of people play. The game that the vast majority of players take part in is very different to the elite levels of the sport, I can’t stress that enough.”