The ARU is looking to cash in on Rio’s golden girls and hopes the introduction of new sevens pathways will have other young Australians following in their footsteps.
A long-time believer in the sevens format, ARU chief Bill Pulver hopes the success of the Pearls will inspire a whole new generation of rugby players in Australia.
“Our Australian women’s sevens team became heroes for thousands of young girls and boys across the nation who will dream of growing up and playing rugby in the Olympics, just like them,” Pulver said.
“When we centralised our national women’s and men’s programs and made them fulltime athletes, we made an investment in their future and have subsequently seen them blossom as players and as role models.
“On the back of their success, we will open up new sevens pathways in schools, clubs and universities around the country so that more young girls and boys than ever before will have the chance to work towards their dream of representing their country at the Olympic Games.”
A high-performance women’s university sevens series, run in partnership with Australian University Sport (AUS), will be launched in 2017.
Teams will comprise university students alongside marquee players, expected to be drafted from the Australian sevens squads and existing state-based development squads.
“This competition could genuinely change the face of women’s sport, along with the role of university sport in the Australian sporting landscape,” said AUS president Deidre Anderson.
“We are excited by the potential that it offers to raise the profile of our female athletes.”
The ARU will also push to grow the game of sevens at primary and high schools as rugby bids to follow the lead of several other national sporting organisations raising the profile of women’s sports in Australia.
The Women’s Big Bash League and netball’s trans-Tasman Championship are growing in popularity, the AFL is starting a women’s league and the Matildas’ World Cup run has also given women’s soccer a surge.
But Pulver wants the sport of sevens to also attract junior boys to rugby.
“When IOC president Jacques Rogge announced in 2009 that sevens would feature at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the rugby community was thrilled,” Pulver said.
“It represented a major milestone for our sport, and the opportunity to showcase our game and our sport’s values to the biggest audience in the world.
“For our women’s team to have already achieved such success is a testament to the hard work and effort they have put into the program.
“Sevens demands unique levels of skill, speed, physicality, fitness and mental tenacity, which cannot be achieved without incredible hard work and dedication.
“Our sevens players are fantastic role models and ambassadors for our country … we couldn’t be prouder.”