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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

75% of rugby playing nations denied chance to qualify for World Cup

On 23rd September last year the IRB announced that the next Women's Rugby World Cup would be help in London next year. At the time the actual qualifying process was no revealed, but it was promised that this would be announced "by the end of the year" (ie. 2008). Bernard Lapasset, Rugby World Cup Limited Board Chairman, promised that:
“These two tournaments [the Sevens and XVs World Cups], in conjunction with a global qualification process and existing tournament structures, will guarantee an unprecedented level of elite Women’s competition for around 90 Unions over the next two years. This expanded competition pathway underpinned by the Women’s Strategic Plan point to what promises to be the most competitive Women’s Rugby World Cup ever in 2010” (IRB Press release).
Ninety unions to be involved - wow!

Since then... silence. News about the European qualification process leaked out a few months ago, but only today has full details come to light - and not in an IRB press release, but in a letter to the unions that one or two have passed on to me. Which makes what follows therefore something of a World Exclusive!

So, Bernard said 90 unions. Optimistic - so how many unions do you think will actually have a chance to compete for a place in London next year?
  • 90 - the number of unions Bernard said would take part? No.
  • 83 - the number the IRB claim took part in the qualification process for the Sevens World Cup? No.
  • 70 - the number that actually took part in the above process? No.
  • 50 - the number of unions that have played 15-a-side internationals in recent years? No.
No - the number of countries who will have a chance to compete for next season's "World" Cup will probably be somewhere between 19 and 25 - barely a quarter to a third of the countries with active women's rugby teams.

When you look at the detail it gets even worse...
  • Europe. 12 nations will compete for six places in the tournament. England, Wales, Ireland and France have now qualified via the Six Nations - Italy and Scotland will play off for the final two places against Spain, Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Germany and Belgium next month. Nations with active 15-a-side denied any chance to compete for a place include Romania, Finland, Luxembourg, Norway and Serbia.
  • North America. USA and Canada will qualify. No other nation in North America or the Caribbean will be given any chance to compete - this denies access to Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, Cayman Islands, and Bermuda.
  • South America. No South American nations will be given any chance to compete for a place in the World Cup. So no hope us to see the players from the sevens sensations Brazil, for example.
  • Asia. One qualifier from a tournament, details to be announced. Teams taking part in the are likely to (but will not necessarily) include Japan, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, and Singapore.
  • Africa. South Africa qualify automatically. So no chance for the very active women's teams from Uganda or Kenya, leave alone Rwanda, Zambia or Zimbabwe, among others.
  • Oceania. New Zealand qualify automatically, Australia will play-off against Samoa. So the door is shut on Fiji and Tonga.
In the limited time available this might be said to be inevitable - but why is time limited? Because the IRB left the announcement of the venue for the 2010 World Cup until less than two years before the tournament was due take place. Its not Finland's fault, or Uganda's - its the IRBs.

And, yes, it has to be said that none of the teams missing out would have been likely to exactly trouble the major nations, or even those favoured with the chance to take part. But - frankly - if that attitude is taken to its logical conclusion you may as well save a bob or two by cutting straight to the inevitable England vs New Zealand final. The whole point about tournament like these is the excitement they build in even the smallest, most lowly ranked countries. Look at Sweden, for example, who have a chance to qualify but - in all probability - won't. Despite that look at the excitement this is generating - training camps, tours, publicity. Why is this denied to Fiji, Trinidad and Brazil?

But above all what gets me is the deceit. The big press launches with big numbers thrown around showing how strong the women's game is and how much it is expanding and how much the IRB support it when the truth is they can't be bothered to organise (or are incapable or organising) a World Cup to which the world is invited.

It is a disgrace.


  1. Anonymous7:11 AM

    it's not a disgrace. it's extremely disgusting, narrow minded and hypocritical. a great way to kill the women's game in the lesser nations.

  2. i cannot believe this. what is IRB thinking? i guess they only needed us for their bid to get 7's rugby into the Olympics. A 15's qualifiers campaign would have gotten us (Ugandan women rugby players) a lot more publicity to build onto what we had for the 7's. That would have translated into more women and girls coming into the game. This news is extremely disappointing and it is unfair too. Does that mean we wait for another 3 years to attempt to qualify for a world cup?

  3. Anonymous9:35 AM

    Is there anything as unions that we can do about this??

  4. What could the offended unions do? Well there is an IRB meeting in London in May, so they could lobby there. However that assumes that a) IRB is in some way a democracy, and b) that they give a damn about women's rugby. I see no evidence for either.

    As for "I guess they only needed us for their bid to get 7's rugby into the Olympics", well I hate to say I told you so, but...


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