Postponing Rugby World Cup 2021, the pinnacle of the women’s game, is understandable due to current circumstances. But given the game is ready to bend over backwards in order to host a UK Lions tour, this is just another example of inequality within the sport.
On Tuesday, World Rugby recommended postponing the competition with the reasoning that the “evolution of the uncertain and challenging global COVID-19 landscape” made it too difficult to be held this year.
Quite frankly, this sounds like corporate spin, especially given that the tournament is due to be held in New Zealand, a country that has handled covid remarkably well.
Apart from a small recent outbreak, which again has been expertly contained, life has been pretty normal in the country. Should this continue, there is no reason why the tournament cannot begin by mid-September, with full stadia and no social distancing.
The call for postponement has been equally disappointing as individual unions are finally starting to support the women’s game more. New Zealand and England have always been strong, but France and the United States are building well, while countries like South Africa are also making steps to help them compete.
In February, the Springboks appointed ex-Ireland captain Lynne Cantwell as their first ever women’s high-performance manager. SA Rugby CEO, Jurie Roux, explained that signing Cantwell was a major appointmentand that it showed the union were serious about women’s rugby.
Less than a month later, the World Cup was postponed. Over the course of the week, statements have been coming through from Women’s teams stating their disappointment, but that they understand the decision. It would have been great for a team to have come out with something punchier, but it’s unsurprising none did, especially as World Rugby helps fund most teams.
Although the decision to postpone – in addition to moving the Women’s Six Nations but not the men’s – does show underlying prejudice in the game, some are choosing to take positives out of the decision.
Wellington rugby player, Alice Sopper, took to Twitter earlier this week to explain why it was actually what the tournament needed.
So our World Cup is delayed by one year. A lot of challenges that present but also a window of time to build this audience right.
Let’s stop sitting on our hands and start getting hype for the women’s game! pic.twitter.com/spNfVG8PAT
— Alice Soper (@alicesoapbox) March 2, 2021
Admittedly, more time could help build excitement for the tournament, but is it actually necessary? New Zealand is rugby heartland. It’s the only place on Earth where almost everyone loves and watches the sport. The fact that it hasn’t been advertised enough to an already extremely captive audience again highlights how World Rugby have dropped the ball.
Yes, the decision to postpone may be beneficial in the long-term. However, none of this changes the fact that World Rugby have repeatedly cancelled and postponed women’s tournaments and fixtures while allowing men’s ones to take place.
The excitement around the tournament only needs an extra year to develop because it wasn’t promoted enough in the first place. World Rugby shouldn’t be let off the hook for the way they handled this tournament and the women’s game.