When World Rugby boldly decided to remove all mention of the word “women” from all future Women’s World Cups two years ago, the move was widely greeted with optimism. The gender-neutral brand appeared progressive – the first for a major sports organization – and reflected how women now make up almost a third of rugby’s global participation.
This week, rugby’s governing body has a wonderful opportunity to reinforce that inclusive message. There is a vacant position that needs to be filled on the World Rugby Executive Committee which, unlike the game itself, remains firmly gendered, with Angela Ruggiero the only female on the 11-person board.
The 51 members of the World Rugby board will face an agonizing decision when the vote takes place on May 6. If members vote another man – and keep the executive over 90% male – or should they start fulfilling one of the key recommendations World Rugby presented last month in its four-year strategic plan and elects a woman for the first time?
As if to point out the obvious, two women and a man were nominated for the place. Among them are Ada Milby, the president of Philippine Rugby and Rugby Americas North representative Cristina Flores, who is in contention with Jonathan Webb of Rugby Football Union, knee surgeon and former England full-back.
As the first woman elected to World Rugby’s board in 2017, Milby seems more than suited for the role, bringing two decades of rugby experience, half of which has been devoted to governance. Last year, she became the first woman to take over the presidency of the Philippines Rugby Union and has a weapon in her arsenal that no other current World Rugby executive can guarantee – she still plays for her national team. .
“I think that sets me apart as a candidate,” said Milby, who has made more than 70 appearances for the Philippines and would be Asia Rugby’s first representative to the executive. Sport Telegraph. “I can talk about first-hand experiences of player challenges, challenges as president of a union, challenges from a regional perspective. I’m actually able to bring my own personal experiences straight to the front row, which I think has real strategic value. ”
Flores is also a serious contender, having played at the amateur level and served on the boards of Mexican and Canadian unions. His campaign manifesto openly addresses improving the well-being of rugby players, citing the need to learn from “harassment issues” encountered in other sports. Following 37 members of the Canadian women’s rugby sevens team who signed a statement last week accusing their union of presiding over a culture of abuse, harassment and intimidation, it is a extremely relevant engagement.
These women are not raising their hands not because of their gender, but because they believe they can positively influence change in an organization that has openly identified women in rugby as “the greatest opportunity to develop the game.” sport”.
Perhaps more importantly, their representation on the executive would also give emerging rugby nations a voice on some of the sport’s biggest decisions – including hosting the new WXV competition for the women’s world game that World Rugby has. unveiled earlier this year, and that is launched. in 2023. It would also be a clear victory for World Rugby, which has set itself the ambitious goal of having 40% female representation on all its committees.
It should be mentioned that there has been a considerable push towards gender diversity on the World Rugby board – women now represent 17 of 51 of its members. But the same can’t be said of its decidedly male-centric leader, who was dubbed a ‘old boys club’ last year after it was revealed that the board had more men nominated. ‘ “ Brett ” than women.
It was Scrumqueens, the online women’s rugby platform, which first reported “Brettgate”. It came as no surprise when its founder, Ali Donnelly, wrote an open letter to all World Rugby board members earlier this month, urging them to choose Milby or Flores to join Ruggiero at the table.
Hopefully they get the memo, because if World Rugby is serious about improving opportunities for women atop its all-male white-collar tree, never has there been a more opportune time to push the needle in. the right way. .