World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper believes women will, one day, command the same commercial value as their male counterparts.

This was one of Gosper's many bold statements as he launched World Rugby's global women's marketing campaign dubbed the "Unstoppables".

Gosper also made pointed remarks about the push for greater gender balance on national rugby boards.

New Zealand's Stacey Waaka, a World Cup champion in sevens and XVs, is one of 15 ambassadors today unveiled to lead the campaign designed to significantly boost the standalone promotion of women's rugby on a global scale.

Advertisement
Brett Gosper, CEO of World Rugby. Photo / Getty
Brett Gosper, CEO of World Rugby. Photo / Getty

Waaka, the backline utility, is now a prominent figure in the women's game but her inspiring story dates back to surviving a school bus crash on her way home to Ruatoki in 2011.

Fifteen at the time, Waaka helped rescue young children on board despite sustaining serious injuries to both knees.

"I didn't actually know I'd been injured until maybe 10 to 20 minutes later and my little cousin was like 'Oh Aunty, you're bleeding from your legs' and I looked down and all this blood and flesh and everything was kind of hanging down," Waaka says.

In a global context, Waaka is but one face.

With 2.7 million female players, more than a quarter of rugby's participation and representing a 28 per cent increase in the last two years, the women's game continues to ride the popularity wave.

World Rugby is, clearly, keen to continue that momentum.

"The development of women in rugby is the single biggest opportunity for our sport to grow over the next decade," Gosper said.

The next step is attempting to gradually monetise women's rugby by attracting major brands, broadcasters and sponsors, with the grand vision of ultimately becoming self-sustainable.

Advertisement

"That's the future. You've got to believe that at some point in time, and it's hard to put a date on it, that the women's game will be equally valuable as the men's game," Gosper said. "That is some time in the future but we've got to build that future as fast as we can.

"The values are becoming very apparent. It's our job to grow those so the women's game is not just self-funding but actually profitable.

The New Zealand Black Ferns perform a haka. Photo / Getty
The New Zealand Black Ferns perform a haka. Photo / Getty

"The tendency from now is the women's game will be far more marketed on its own merits rather than bundled as an afterthought into the men's package.

"We're not just going to bolt it on but often sell some of these commercial assets specifically for the women's game.

"That's important to make the sport grow and stand on its own two feet and also generate money to put back into the game to grow participation. That's the model."

For now, though, it is still a case of 'show me the money'.

At present sevens dominates women's rugby. Athletes gravitate more towards the abbreviated version due to the lure of the Olympic Games which provides better pathways and more opportunities to make a living through semi professional and rare full-time contracts.

While sevens has led participation growth, Gosper says the women's XVs World Cup remains the greatest commercial asset, and efforts are therefore being made to strike a better balance between the respective formats.

"The Olympics has rapidly thrown up some amazing opportunities for women's rugby. There have been discussions at council and with the women's advisory group that it's very important for XVs to underpin the sport.

"There will be efforts to redress that to a certain extent, to reinforce some of the regional XVs competitions. In the plans for the Nations Championship there is also a women's Nations Championship."

World Rugby recently moved to adopt a 34 per cent (17/49) female representation on its council. As part of this "Unstoppables" campaign push, Gosper made it clear he expects national unions to follow suit.

"It puts pressure on them to do so. It's reflecting that player participation. Over time that gender balance may increase at board level so let's see what happens."

Canada now has rules stipulating a minimum 40 per cent representation of either gender on its board. New Zealand Rugby, meanwhile, has one female on its nine-person board in Dr Farah Palmer.

"From the moment we were talking about women in rugby rather than recruiting rugby players then it had to be a multi-faceted drive to increase the prominence of women in the game as well.

"That's created a dramatic consciousness of the women's game."