Today the Women’s Rugby World Cup kicks off in Ireland for a two week knock out competition that features 12 international teams. The World Cup is hosted by Ireland, with matches being played in Dublin and in Belfast.
Women’s sport has gained popularity across many disciplines, and rugby is no exception, with women’s rugby providing spectators with skilful matches that are every bit as exciting as the men’s game.
It is only 12 months ago that seven a side rugby became an olympic sport with the first gold medal for the ladies team awarded to Australia in Rio. Since then, the international seven a side rugby circuit has given greater prominence to the ladies’ game. I was given my first introduction at the Hong Kong Sevens in April of this year and am delighted to see that my favourite Asian team Hong Kong will be competing in the tournament in Pool A where they will meet Wales, Canada and New Zealand.
England start the World Cup as the tournament favourites; they are the only full-time professional squad, and the current number one side in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings. But the competition will be keenly contested, and other seeded teams include host nation Ireland, France, five times tournament winners New Zealand, Australia and Canada who were tournament runners’ up in 2014.
England kick off the first game this afternoon against Spain in Pool B. The American Women’s Eagles, who were the winners of the inaugural world cup competition in 1991, play Italy in the other opening Pool B Match.
Pool C pits hosts Ireland against Australia in their opening match in which anything could happen. Other teams in their pool are Japan and France, who are both also strong contenders for the trophy.
All of the teams are evenly matched, so the tournament is bound to throw up surprises on the way, and the competition is wide open.
A fascinating feature of the tournament is that it is being held in Ireland, with matches played in both Belfast in the North and Dublin in the South, at a time when the EU and UK negotiators are fretting about how to solve the questions of free movement and the border between the UK and Ireland in the Brexit negotiations. The Irish Rugby Union covers all of the provinces on the island, North and South. Ulster men and women have every pride and no hesitation in donning the green jersey to play for their island, their Ireland.
The reality of the World Cup is that sport is showing politicians the way forward as Ireland hosts a world-class international tournament that unites the efforts of all parties and shows how people in the real world can cooperate with one another.
Speaking at Queen’s University Belfast last week, Ireland’s Taioseach Leo Varadkar said, “The challenge in our generation is Brexit. The Brexit negotiations are well underway in Brussels. And, to quote Michel Barnier, the clock is ticking. Every single aspect of life in Northern Ireland could be affected by the outcome – jobs and the economy, the border, citizens rights, cross border workers, travel, trade, agriculture, energy, fisheries, aviation, EU funding, tourism, public services, the list goes on.”
“We will do all we can, in Brussels, in London and in Dublin, to achieve the best outcome for everyone on this island – to protect our peace, our freedom, our rights, and our prosperity.”
“I do not want there to be an economic border on our island nor do I want one between Ireland and Britain.”
“North-South cooperation has also been important in normalising relationships on this island and in bringing real and practical benefits to all of our citizens. And across this island, sport has shown a great potential to bring us together.”
The Women’s Rugby World Cup starting today is an excellent example of precisely that, and is a hugely symbolic event as it demonstrates the co-operation between North and South, public and private, rugby and non-rugby sporting organisations.
Ireland will be bidding in September to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023.
I wish them every success in landing this prize, and wish the Ireland Rugby Union every success in hosting a great Women’s World Cup so that Ireland’s Rugby ladies can show the EU and UK politicians what the people really want.