With a very special and record-breaking Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 approaching a thrilling conclusion, leaders from the rugby, sport and business communities have gathered in Belfast for the World Rugby women’s leadership forum.

The two-day forum, which concluded on Friday, was a key step in the development of the World Rugby 2017-25 women’s rugby plan and examined best practice approaches to further strengthen and grow the sport and create a leadership network that is actively committed to accelerating the development of women in rugby on and off the field of play.  

Notable speakers at the leadership forum included:

  • Emily Shaw - Head of Women's Football Development for FIFA
  • Holly Colvin – Women’s Officer for the International Cricket Council (ICC)
  • Nancy Altobello - EY Global Vice-Chair – Talent and WRWC 2017 Official Sponsor
  • Katherine Henderson – Vice-Chair of Rugby Canada’s Board of Directors and Chief Executive of Curling Canada
  • Pam Kosanke – Director Rugby International Marketing and The Rugby Channel and former member of the USA women’s rugby team
  • Katie Sadleir – General Manager Women’s Rugby, World Rugby 

High on the agenda was discussion around World Rugby’s draft Women’s Rugby Plan (2017-25), which is due to go before Council for consideration in November. The plan, which has undergone an unprecedented global consultation process since it was first launched in March this year, has received universal support for its overarching objectives from the global rugby community. 

By 2025, World Rugby aims to have built on the already significant growth the game has experienced by ensuring equal opportunities are promoted at all levels and women are reflected in all strategy plans and structures, making highly valued contributions to participation, performance, leadership and investment in the global game of rugby. 

Women’s rugby is currently in excellent shape with more than 2.2 million women and girls playing the game worldwide, accounting for over a quarter of all players globally. 

Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 has played an enormous role in further increasing the profile of the sport. With record commercial, broadcast and ticketing programmes and phenomenal engagement on social media, the tournament – which will see defending champions England take on New Zealand in Saturday’s final - has captured the imagination of fans and players in Ireland and around the world. It is also an appropriate time to look to the future to harness momentum and build a strong and sustainable game for all. 

The forum considered:

  • The development of the international competition calendar and key union and high-performance considerations
  • Promoting women’s leadership and mentoring from the field of play to the boardroom
  • The development opportunity and best-practice case studies from unions, regions and other sports
  • The commercial, broadcast and marketing opportunity and best-practice case studies 

Alongside the leadership forum, World Rugby also introduced a number of other new initiatives within this year’s edition of the tournament, giving the future leaders of the game a platform for their voices to be heard. A captains’ breakfast was held on Friday 18 August to celebrate and acknowledge the game’s on-field leaders and a lunch for match officials took place on Monday 21 August, to seek their valuable input into the game’s development 

World Rugby Chief Executive Brett Gosper said: “World Rugby is committed to leading the ongoing transformation of the game, to accelerate the development of women in rugby on and off the field of play and to grow an inclusive sport that promotes equal opportunities for all. 

“Rugby has no barriers. It is a progressive, modern, attractive, dynamic and values-driven sport played by girls and women, boys and men around the world. This leadership forum reflected our strong ambition to ensure all members of the rugby community have the opportunity to have their say in the future development of our sport. 

“I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this inaugural forum from the presenters and speakers to union and region representatives. The outcomes from this forum will inform the development of a strong and sustainable game through the women’s plan.” 

World Rugby General Manager for Women’s Rugby Katie Sadleir said: “The leadership forum brought together a highly committed and dedicated network of leaders, who are working hard within their respective regions and unions to advance women in rugby and continue the ongoing growth and development of the sport. 

“From Fiji to Colombia, across Asia and in Africa people are working for change, increasing participation and creating opportunities for more women and girls at all levels of the game. I look forward to building on the excellent progress that has been made, by working collectively with my colleagues from around the world to take the 2017-25 Women’s Rugby Plan forward and begin its implementation later this year.”