3 Mar 2021

'Golden Year' for women's rugby loses it shine

5:44 pm on 3 March 2021

A "golden year" for women's rugby has lost its shine with the World Cup set to be postponed.

Eloise Blackwell

Black Ferns captain Eloise Blackwell Photo: Icon Sportswire

2021 was touted as being the "golden year" for women's rugby.

Back-to-back major international tournaments with the Tokyo Olympics for the sevens, to be followed by the first women's Rugby World Cup to be held in the southern hemisphere.

But now World Rugby's recommended postponing the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand until next year.

The news that the Rugby World Cup was under threat blindsided Black Ferns captain Eloise Blackwell.

On her morning run today Blackwell got an email from New Zealand Rugby, quickly followed by an alert about the postponement from a media organisation.

"We were pretty devastated to put it in one word," Blackwell said of realising four years of hard work would need to extend to five.

"But essentially nothing really changes, I was upset for a couple of hours but now it's same goal, same grind."

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said it was the right time for World Rugby to make the call on the tournament - scheduled to take place in September and October.

"This was the optimal time to make the decision and when you weighed up all of those various things around the global uncertainty associated with Covid, the impact on athletes and preparation, uncertainty in a whole range of areas and the risk associated with that, this was the decision we landed in," Robinson said.

Rugby balls with the RWC New Zealand 2021 logo.


The tournament has "significant" financial investment from the government, through MBIE major events and Sport New Zealand.

Sports Minister Grant Robertson said they would continue to back the event despite the delay.

Robertson said the government would have taken a different approach to World Rugby but he is aware of the challenges facing high performance athletes.

"We've made absolutely clear that we were committed to making it work this year and we believed we could make it work this year, but just with all of the Covid restrictions around the world and the ability of teams to train and play is really, really limited."

The tournament would have seen 12 teams come here. All of whom would need beds in Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) and sides wanted the ability to train.

The logistical difficulties, rather than the cost, played a role in the postponement, according to the chair of the tournament's organising committee Dame Julie Christie.

"All 12 teams and 600 plus people, the cost wasn't the deciding factor, in the end the deciding factor was player welfare," she said.

"The risks were too high, if you weigh up what we could have been facing if we got a positive test this year, and what we can create next year as a great tournament - we had to go to next year."

The delayed tournament is still likely to be held in Auckland and Northland next year, but the dates could change to fit in with other events.

However, Northland's Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stephen Smith said the loss of 11 Cup games in Northland this year is "deeply disappointing".

"The north, like most other provinces, is looking for significant opportunities like this to showcase ourselves and put some financial fat away for difficult times which we are facing and will continue to face for the foreseeable future.

"It's just another little thing which add up to be bloody frustrating, but I'm amongst the many that will just have to suck it up and get on with it."

General view of Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand.  2020.

Eden Park Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Dropping a major event - which was anticipated to attract a record crowd for the final at Eden Park - is also a blow for the Auckland stadium.

Even with a rescheduled competition, Eden Park chief executive Nick Sautner said there were more immediate concerns.

"Well the event industry has been in crisis now since Covid hit and that unprecedented impact on our business has seen us need to look to adapt, however our core business is events and without events it makes it very challenging for us to deliver our direct revenues but also our indirect revenues from our event calendar."

New Zealand Rugby will also take a financial hit from moving the event but Robinson isn't yet sure how much. He says they've still got to run the numbers.