Rugby's drive to create gender equality has hit an ice-berg with the 2021 World Cup set to offer women inferior basic conditions to those the men will be afforded in Japan this year.

World Rugby has made it a goal to close the gender divide and yet has awarded New Zealand the 2021 Women's World Cup when a key facet of the bid failed to meet the minimum standard required to host the men's tournament.

While all 20 teams heading to Japan this week for the men's World Cup will be staying in four and five star accommodation – the same promise has not been made for the women's teams coming to the 2021 World Cup in New Zealand.

New Zealand's bid states that women's teams could be housed in three-star accommodation at the showpiece tournament in two years.


In comparison, to host the male tournament, bids have no chance of being successful unless they guarantee players will be put-up in a minimum of four star accommodation or preferably five.

No male team that came to New Zealand for the 2011 World Cup was placed in three star accommodation in Auckland, where the majority of matches in 2021 will be played.

A spokesperson for NZ Rugby said that final decisions have not yet been made on where all 12 teams will be staying in 2021 but did confirm that the successful bid offered a mix of three and four star accommodation in Whangarei where some of the games will be played and a mix of three and four and a half star accommodation in Auckland.

Nigel Cass, NZR chief rugby officer, said: "Our bid was provided within the terms provided by World Rugby. Where available teams will be staying in four star accommodation the same as other national teams."

In contrast, the All Blacks will be staying at a variety of hotels during the 2019 World Cup in Japan, all of which have a star rating of four and a half.

The Black Ferns celebrate after being crowned champions of the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup. Photo / Photosport
The Black Ferns celebrate after being crowned champions of the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup. Photo / Photosport

The discrepancy in basic accommodation standards at the two tournaments comes only weeks after World Rugby announced it was removing the gender specification of the 2021 event as part of its drive to increase the profile of the women's game and put it on an equal footing with the men.

"Unintentional gender bias in sport is an ongoing issue," World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said. "As a global sporting federation we need to be leading from the front on the issue of equality.

"By adopting gender balance in the naming of men's and women's Rugby World Cup competitions, we are setting new standards in equality in rugby."


New Zealand won the 2021 hosting rights in November last year, when their bid was considered superior to Australia's.

But it is understood that despite New Zealand winning with 25 votes to 17, Australia's bid was focused on putting the women's tournament on an equal footing with the men's World Cup in terms of accommodation, class of flights to the tournament and training facilities.

The need to improve basic standards around the Women's World Cup became a focus after the 2017 tournament was a massive broadcast success but some of the players such as Black Ferns star Portia Woodman voiced concerns that the tournament set-up required them to accept conditions that would be unacceptable at the men's tournament.

Woodman was not alone in saying that the smaller squad sizes women were allowed to pick, combined with the short turnaround between games put intolerable pressure on the players and heightened their risk of injury borne through fatigue.

The 2021 tournament has extended the allowed squad sizes from 28 players to 30 and the length of the tournament from 23 days to 25.

New Zealand Rugby Players' Association chief Rob Nichol says the decision to make tournaments gender neutral can only be considered a step forward if it is backed by substantive initiatives that support the name change.

"It's fine to change the name but what about the substance? What changes are being made in regard to resources and opportunities that support and improve pathways?"