With Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 set to begin in front of sold out crowds, previously unseen media coverage of the sport, and professional contracts allowing for higher quality than ever, these truly are halcyon days for the women’s game.
But WRWC2017 is not a one-off triumph for women’s sport. There has been a huge sea-change in the previous two years that has thrust all women’s sports into the limelight. Across the sporting landscape, there truly is a women’s revolution going on. Campaigns such as This Girl Can have ensured that women’s sport and women getting active has been pushed to the front of public consciousness, with high profile television adverts and full digital marketing campaigns dedicated to it.
Since the last Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2013, the England women’s team has undergone a complete re-brand and re-structure. Now known as the Red Roses, professional contracts are allowing elite players to play the game full-time to ensure that the team can achieve the best results possible. This step, which has seen 48 full time 15-a-side and sevens contracts given out, gives young players the clearest indication yet that they can pursue rugby as a full-time career. Early indications – a Six Nations Grand Slam with a points difference of +181 – suggest the new era may be fruitful.
In football, the England Lionesses have continued to make positive headlines with their outstanding performances, including a heroic journey to the 2015 Women’s World Cup Semi-Final, eventually finishing third. Then, having gone into the recent European Championships among the favourites, the team was dominant in reaching the semi-final stage, where they were beaten by eventual winners the Netherlands. England’s quarter-final with France drew over 3 millions viewers on Channel 4, a fantastic achievement.
Perhaps the greatest British triumph in the whole of sport in the past year was Great Britain’s gold medal in the women’s hockey at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Having claimed the bronze in 2012, they went two better after beating the Netherlands in a thrilling final, eventually winning on penalties when the game finished 3-3. Players such as goalkeeping hero Maddie Hinch became sporting icons overnight, and continue to maintain their profile and that of the game with one year to go until the Women’s Hockey World Cup in England.
Netball has gone from strength to strength in Britain with Sky showing international matches including the huge Quad Series against Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica. There has also been keen interest in the Vitality Netball Super League, which has been buoyed by the addition of Wasps, who won the tournament in their first season. The recent World Youth Cup took place in Botswana, showing the potential for growth in the game from the ground up.
The recent Women’s Cricket World Cup, covered live by Sky on TV and online, was a huge success in terms of on-field triumphs and commercial aspects. Many grounds were close to capacity, with the final selling out well in advance at the home of cricket, Lord’s. The Final saw an utterly compelling match, with the hosts England fighting back and clutching victory from the jaws of defeat. With England winning, and a new television deal on the horizon with more free-to-air coverage, and the Kia Superleague set to start its second season, it seems we have reached a tipping point for women’s cricket to break into the mainstream.
Outside of team sports in Britain, one woman revolutionised the mixed martial arts scene in a period of unrelenting dominance. Ronda Rousey took down all before her to become UFC Champion and become arguably the most marketable sportswomen on the planet. Film roles, major endorsement deals and a legion of social media followers put Rousey alongside the very top draws in UFC. In 2015, Rousey suffered her first loss, and the subsequent follow up, and at this point it isn’t known if she will return to the Octagon. However, the impression she left on sport as a whole will be indelibly marked.
One of the cameos that Rousey made was at WWE’s Wrestlemania event, alongside Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. WWE has been making a huge amount of noise about the rise of women’s wrestling in their company, with the self-touted Women’s Revolution seeing women’s matches main eventing shows throughout 2016 and 2017. In the ultra-macho world of pro wrestling, this was a huge step forwards, with a majority of critics hugely impressed with the quality performances put in by the women.
And so now Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 takes centre stage. The tickets are nearly sold out. The television deals are in place. All that is now needed is some compelling rugby and buy-in from rugby fans and a wider sporting audience. Gilbert are delighted to be the official ball of WRWC2017, as we have been for every Women’s Rugby World Cup in history. We are committed in our support of the women’s game and look forward to many other editions of the tournament.
Get your Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 ball here.