When the Women’s Rugby World Cup ends on August 26, when the biggest sporting event to take place on the island of Ireland since the 2006 Ryder Cup folds up its tent and leaves town, the questions will be asked: what kind of legacy will the tournament leave, and will women’s rugby prosper and grow at grassroots level thereafter?
Nobody can predict the future, though one could argue that the best way to predict the future is to have the power to shape it.
The Ireland Women’s team has, arguably, a unique opportunity to shape the game’s immediate future and broaden the game’s appeal to a new generation of girls.
And being successful in this tournament carries the tantalising prospect of creating a massive ripple effect across the country for the game, according to former Ireland international, Laura Guest.
“I think if we are to build a legacy we need to be successful to keep people interested,” stresses Guest. “For example, the Sevens team qualifying for the World Cup in 2018 is a super achievement. We have to be winners. I think it’s the easiest way to get anybody interested in you.”
Ireland reaching the semi-finals or possibly the final could have a positive long-term effect for the game, and Guest points to the success of the Cork ladies’ senior football team as an example of how to leave a legacy.
Cork ladies’ underage football teams — as well as the grassroots club game in the county — have been thriving as a result of the senior success.
“If you look at the Cork ladies’ football side, they’re recognised throughout the country and that’s down to their hard work and success. I think women’s rugby has to be the same, they have to be successful. We can’t just turn up and expect things — we have to put in the work. And it’s being put in,” adds Guest.
2017 Women’s RWC Tournament director, Garrett Tubridy, points to a series of events that have already taken place to expand interest in rugby in the lead-in to the tournament, one major initiative being the undertaking to get a further 2,017 girls registered during 2017.
“We have worked with Nora Stapleton on this,” says Tubridy. “Nora is out-half on the senior team but her day job is as IRFU women’s rugby development manager. From the outset, Nora would have worked very hard asking what can we achieve, what can we do to encourage participation and to encourage interest.
“One of the strategic objectives of hosting this World Cup was to increase the profile in levels of interest and participation of women’s rugby in Ireland.
“If you look at the Trophy Tour, it will have been to close to 300 events in 32 counties.
“We were very cognisant of bringing the trophy out around the country. In order for a school, a club or community to host the trophy they had to put out a form and tell us what they were going to do in their area to help us promote women’s rugby and to help us throughout the Women’s World Cup.
“It got girls with a rugby ball in their hand for the first time in many cases; with others it was to give them an extra hook with which to get into the community if said community was starting up a team. It has been a brilliant way to get into communities and generate a bit of interest in women’s rugby.”
Tubridy, like Guest, believes Ireland success on the park can lead to success further down the food chain.
“If Ireland do well in the tournament, that would be brilliant,” adds Tubridy. “Success breeds success. What we have tried to do is look at targets that we want to put in place. We wanted to get ‘2,017 in 2017’ so that by the end of this year we’d have 2,017 newly-registered female players. That’s going well.
“There’ll be follow-up to capitalise on the interest in the tournament. In September we have a number of activities going on, particularly at Third Level, which are all designed to capitalise on the interest in women’s rugby that will arise out of Women’s RWC.”
While both Garrett Tubridy and Nora Stapleton, among others, have done sterling work to promote the game in the context of the upcoming World Cup in every county in Ireland, perhaps the greatest marketing tool is live television coverage of the tournament.
The power of television should not be underestimated, according to Tubridy, who has witnessed first-hand the knock-on effect of live broadcasting of Ireland’s participation in the Women’s Six Nations Championship.
“The broadcast of women’s rugby during the Six Nations certainly opens up people’s eyes to the game. Countless people have told me they have watched the game having not watched it before. The same people were taken aback by the levels of skill and by the players’ levels of professionalism on and off the pitch. The more people that we can get exposed to that, the more interest in it and they may come back for the Six Nations next year.”
If hosting the Women’s Rugby World Cup will bring benefits at grassroots level through increased participation rates and increased TV viewership, there is also the sense that rugby’s governing body, World Rugby, may cast its eyes more critically on Ireland’s capability to stage such a tournament.
The 2023 World Cup bid process is nearing its conclusion, showcasing what Ireland can offer, albeit on a smaller stage, and may bring its own pressures and responsibilities to the 2017 Women’s RWC tournament organisers.
However, Tubridy is keen to stress that he and his team wish to “put on a great show” in the coming weeks and states that the 2023 bid process is an entirely separate project to his team’s focus.
“I think it’s incumbent on all of us, not just the team here in the IRFU or indeed in World Rugby or in UCD, that if we are to get events like this in the future we need to put on a great show. That includes the fans, spectators, the hotels and others having to put our best foot forward.
“I’ve been asked the question a lot about 2023 but 2023 is completely separate to us. Anybody involved in this tournament is almost exclusively involved in this tournament. That’s our focus.
“I think irrespective of 2023 we want this to be an amazing tournament and an amazing experience for the people who come along, whether you’re a spectator, a member of the media, a participant or in management; we’ve put a lot of thought into making this happen. 2023 is a separate project.”
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