irbsevens.com and James Mortimer 28.Jun.2013Getty Images
We are all set for kick-off in Moscow and the excitement and anticipation is really building with all these women’s teams very aware of what is at stake.
Who will be the next RWC Sevens champions? Will Australia retain the title or will other favourites England, Canada or New Zealand take the title? Following their impressive European Series win, hosts Russia will also fancy their chances.
Not only are these teams playing on the world stage, they are also playing for core team status on the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series next season with the top eight in Moscow securing those prized positions.
It is hard to believe that this is only the second Rugby World Cup Sevens for women. The first event in Dubai seems like only yesterday, and when I look back to Dubai and March 2009 women's Sevens was very new.
2009 was the first time that women shared the world stage with men in Rugby and at the time there was a great sense of anticipation as to where this could go. For many of the players it was their first time representing their country at the highest level and for many there was even a sense of disbelief that they were there.
For many spectators around the world too it was a first taste of women playing the game. Many did not know what to expect but were impressed with what they saw. And the tournament was not without surprises. One of the favourites, England, were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by eventual winners Australia, who went on to be crowned champions, captained by Cheryl Soon, who is now the women's representative on the IRB Rugby Committee.
Four years on, leading women’s players are becoming almost household names by comparison – players like Jen Kish, Michaela Staniford and Patricia Garcia to mention but a few. No doubt this tournament will see new stars and surprise packages surface. Who will we be talking about by Sunday evening when the winning captain lifts the trophy?
Enjoying role as ambassadors
In the past four years, and particularly in the last year, we have moved from an amateur game with many players and teams new to the world stage to the beginnings of a professional, Olympic-funded era.
In Dubai all the players were amateur, also holding down full-time jobs or studies. Many of the players are now full-time athletes and those who still have jobs have a fully professional approach.
Some of the teams are based in Olympic Centres for training and many benefit from investment from their National Olympic Committees and other agencies. We now have the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series, a great success in its inaugural season, which is set to reach new levels in the future. The road to Rio has well and truly begun.
Girls around the world now taking up the sport have female heroes to look up to, role models that they can aspire to. It is fantastic to see children hunting for autographs at tournaments and to hear them mention female players as part of their list of favourites. Slowly it is changing perceptions that this is only a sport for men and boys, and that helps us all achieve our goal of growing the Game around the world.
The athletes themselves are tuned in to this reality and take their role as ambassadors for the Game very seriously. Many of them talk about their eagerness to see the sport grow and to have more and more girls playing the Game in their countries.
In the future, we will look back at 2009 as possibly the most significant year in the development of the Game for women and girls around the world, and central to that was RWC Sevens 2009 in Dubai.
When we meet again for the next RWC Sevens in 2018, the road to Rio will be a path well-trodden and we will have our first Women’s Sevens Olympic champions. Only time will tell what other advancements and progress we will be celebrating. No doubt there will be many.