This next six weeks will see the largest Women’s Rugby World Cup attendance in the sport’s history, as the world’s top 12 teams travel to New Zealand.
The tournament has been running for more than 30 years and more than 30,000 tickets have been sold for the opening day, which breaks the record set in 2014 at the final in Paris.
Co-founder of the RFUW Deborah Griffin suggested the idea of the first-ever Women’s World Cup in 1990, to be held in the UK the following year.
To this day Griffin chairs the tournament’s organising committee, alongside Alice Cooper, Sue Dorrington and Mary Forsyth.
Taking just nine days to complete play, the first ever Women’s World Cup ran from the 6th to 14th April in Wales.
This tournament was largely volunteer run and the scheduling of just nine days meant teams would have to play back-to-back games.
In the end, USA secured an unexpected victory against England in the final 19-6.
However, England secured their first title in a revenge match in Scotland in 1994, winning the final against the US 38-23.
The International Rugby Board (IRB) then began to recognise growth in the women’s game and established a Women’s Advisory Committee in January 1996, created a five year development plan and sanctioned the Women’s World Cup to go ahead in 1998.
This growth was seen in 2002 with an expanded 16-team tournament, which then led to increased attendance at Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium of 8,000 fans.
Despite returning to a 12-team format by 2010 that edition saw a Women’s Rugby World Cup attendance record crowd of 13,253 for the final as New Zealand beat England 13-10.
It was a true testament to the growing popularity of the sport, with France’s 20,000 capacity Stade Jean-Bouin stadium hosting the 2014 final as England finally won their second World Cup after three straight final defeats.
However, the most prevalent turning point came in the 2017 tournament, which signalled a new era in the sport with record attendances being reported and attitudes changing in terms of support for the women’s game.
Social media can be partially accredited for the rise in popularity, with a colossal 50,000 users joining the World Rugby’s social media channels.
It was recorded that 600,000 users visited the women’s rugby website during the tournament, four times the number of views from the 2014 edition.
This was evidenced in Ireland’s 2017 tournament, where rugby is one of the most prominent sports, which saw a record figure of 45,412 in attendance over 30 matches with 45 million viewers across all official platforms.
The figures will surely increase further during this year’s event as platforms such as TikTok continue to be a driving force in building publicity and interest for women’s sport.
Moreover, with the final being held at Eden Park in Auckland, a stadium with a 50,000 seat capacity, there’s huge scope for the record to be broken multiple times throughout the tournament.
Additionally, this year’s tournament is the first edition where ‘women’ has been dropped from the title, making it gender neutral for a huge step in the right direction.
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Featured image via World Rugby