Last month, on the eve of the historic Rugby World Cup 2021 final, World Rugby hosted its Women in Rugby International Summit and Events in Auckland.

More than 300 delegates representing 43 countries attended the two-day event, making it the world’s largest forum and network dedicated to advancing gender equality in rugby.

Among those who gathered in New Zealand’s capital for the event were past and present participants of the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme.

It was a chance for many of the women to meet in person for the first time, having previously got to know each other through online sessions and chat groups.

“You understand the number of women who love and unite for common goals,” Olga Surkova, a member of the programme’s class of 2022, told World Rugby.

“I was really touched by it. I really want to stay working in this huge rugby family and benefit rugby, because it is the best game in the world and the basic principles on which rugby is based are very vital.

“I really love live communication and the first meetings were online, it is completely different from a live dialogue. [In Auckland] you could talk about the work of each person, their goals, missions and have free dialogue on various topics.

“That was great… my phone memory is full after three days spent at the Women in Rugby Summit!”

One of the people Surkova was able to meet in person in New Zealand was her mentor on the programme, Regina Lunyolo.

A member of the 2019 intake, Lunyolo took part in a small graduation ceremony alongside fellow scholars from 2018-20, receiving her certificate of completion from Group External Communications & Digital Director at Capgemini, Thomas Hirsch at a breakfast organised by World Rugby.

She said the Women in Rugby Summit enabled participants to check in with each other, understand the challenges they were facing and identify similarities and solutions.

In spite of the language barrier that exists between the Ugandan and Ukrainian Surkova, who is currently learning English and French, their working relationship was strengthened by meeting face-to-face.

“We had a lot of fun catching up with whatever it is we are doing, her refereeing. She's just full of life and we resonated, which was good,” Lunyolo said.

“Sports can get us to understand each other and almost speak the same language. It was really special.”

Surkova added: “My impressions were confirmed, [she was] cheerful, open to various discussions and also a professional in my field. 

“I immediately told her about my ideas and projects and how I want them to bear fruit in the future and Regina supported that. 

“I think when there is support from excellent teachers and a hint, then there will definitely be a result ahead.”

Since returning from New Zealand, Lunyolo to Uganda and Surkova to France, where she is currently living due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the pair have begun to work together more closely.

“We talk more often,” Lunyolo said. “If you haven’t met someone before, you are really not sure what to say to them or you’re not sure what to tell them.

“But when you finally do, they’re like, ‘Oh, this person is actually cool! So, I can do this and that’. So, it was really good that we could finally meet physically.”