Women’s rugby sevens participation has grown by a third in the past 12 months with Australia’s national female team cementing themselves as favourites for an inaugural Olympic gold medal.
The 33 per cent boost in the world’s fastest growing female team sport comes with the Australian Rugby Union electing two new women directors to their board at Monday’s AGM.
In the main area for participation growth in a code battling for numbers and support, the newly-admitted Olympic sport of sevens has seen 149 new teams created in Queensland and more than 84 in NSW.
The popularity of the fast-paced game has soared on the back of the “Pearls”, who are currently leading the World Series standings after winning their third tournament in a row in Atlanta on the weekend.
The Tim Walsh-coached team, which still boasts a number of star players on the sidelines, are eying history by winning the debut sevens Olympic tournament in Rio in August.
Australia’s men’s team – the Thunderbolts – are fourth overall after seven rounds in their world series following a fourth straight semi-finals finish in Hong Kong at the weekend.
Overall, total participation in Australian rugby increased by just 2.7 per cent in 2015 due to a worrying decline in numbers at traditional club rugby level, while the ARU reported a $9.8 million deficit.
But ARU chief executive Bill Pulver downplayed the hit, saying the financial forecast is much stronger in coming years thanks to the 2016-2020 media rights arrangement.
Pulver said a 148 per cent increase on the previous broadcast rights agreement will deliver an extra $170m over five years.
“Certainly there are substantial challenges facing us but there are also significant opportunities,” said ARU chairman Cameron Clyne.
“The popularity of XVs and Sevens Rugby is growing worldwide and the 2016 Olympics will showcase Rugby to an even wider global audience.”
The AGM included the re-election of former Wallabies captain John Eales as a director, as well as the elections of former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick and Microsoft Australia managing director Pip Marlow to the board – joining incumbent Ann Sherry.
“This reflects the increasing role of women in the game,” Pulver said.