Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Gender inequality could hit NZ Rugby in the pocket

New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey believes his organisation could jeopardise future government funding if it fails to act on the lack of female representation on its board.

Impey issued an extraordinary plea to the rugby community at last month's AGM, urging the sport to do more to promote women in governance roles.

In its 124 year existence, there has never been a woman on the NZ Rugby board - an issue that's becoming an increasing source of embarrassment for an organisation that prides itself on being leaders on and off the field.

Impey told She's Got Game the sport is being held back by not having female voices around the boardroom table. The argument for greater female representation becomes even more compelling when women's participation numbers, and the anticipated growth in women's sevens post Rio are considered.

But if that is not enough to sway rugby leaders, Impey said there is also the potential for it to hit the sport in the pocket.

"In order to drive revenue to then reinvest into the game, we will need partnerships, such as with governments or other organisations, for example Sport New Zealand. It's hard not to see that - at some point - we will come under pressure to address gender diversity on our board from government if we want funding," he said.

It is a tack was taken across the Tasman in 2013, when Australian sports bosses threatened to withhold a percentage of government funding if sports did not meet modest gender diversity targets.

Earlier this the Australian Sports Commission also issued a warning to major sporting organisations that unless they bring equality to travel arrangements for men and women athletes, they could lose millions in funding.

Sport New Zealand chief executive Peter Miskimmin said this is not a path his organisation has considered going down just yet.

"We have no plans at this point to make investment dependent upon meeting diversity targets," said Miskimmin.

"We're going through quite a significant change in terms of our approach and attitude around sporting organisations to ensure that their boards reflect the people they're actually serving. We've been quite assertive in encouraging these organisations so when they're thinking about constitutions and board appointments, they're getting gender balance."

Sport NZ have a stated target of at least 40 per cent female representation on boards by 2020 across the 74 national sports organisations. They're on track to meet that target, with women's representation increasing from 28 to 34 per cent over the past four years.

But rugby, supposedly our national sport, is lagging well behind. NZ Rugby is one of five NSOs - the others being canoe racing, baseball, shooting and weight lifting - that currently don't have any women in governance roles.

Over the years NZ Rugby has come under heavy criticism for its lack of gender diversity, with the Human Rights Commission launching a campaign in 2012 demanding the sport do more to promote female leaders. In a brutal assessment of the national game, then-commissioner Dr Judy McGregor labelled the sport the "last bastion of chauvinism".

Impey said NZ Rugby has been hamstrung by constitutional and procedural challenges in the past, and wants to establish a working group to examine how they can address the gender imbalance.

Miskimmin believes simply having a leader in the sport prepared to step up and demand change is a huge step in the right direction.

"We've got a lot of women that want to go on boards, but we haven't got boards that are ready for women," he said.

"I do applaud Brent for standing up in what has been a fairly male-dominated sport, to say the world of rugby is different now and their decision-making processes should reflect that."

- NZ Herald

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