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Rugby as a champion of diversity and inclusion

Jennifer Martegoute- Theil
Sep 12, 2023

Traditionally seen as a male-dominated and socially exclusive sport, rugby in France has undergone a transformation in recent years.

The sport of rugby is reinventing itself – with increasingly diverse practices and players from all walks of life. And technology further encourages this trend towards inclusion.

With the French Rugby Federation indicating there were almost 26,500 registered female rugby players in 2022, one thing is certain: women are getting involved. The growth rate of female participation is evidence of this – just between 2019 and 2021, the number went up by 22%. The organizational infrastructure supporting the women’s game is also expanding. From Gravelines to Ajaccio and Brest to Montbéliard, France now boasts over 430 women’s rugby clubs.

Since its origins, rugby has largely been the domain of a narrow social group. But for several years now, the sport has been undergoing a process of democratization, adding more participants with diverse backgrounds.

This significant transformation can be explained by a series of developments that affect both the social aspect of the sport, which is more open to diversity, and how it is played.

Rugby has taken on many different forms. Alongside the well-established rugby union, rugby league, and rugby sevens varieties, there are now new forms of play, such as wheelchair rugby and non-contact variants like flag rugby, touch rugby, beach rugby, and rugby à 5. Rugby à 5, a touch variety, has even been listed as a “health sport” in the latest edition of Médicosport-Santé, a dictionary used by doctors in France to prescribe sports as a medical treatment.

These new varieties of the sport open up participation to a larger number of players, including people with disabilities and those seeking to play outside of the traditional club-based, competitive, contact-sport format.

Increasing media coverage of women’s competition

The growing popularity of rugby in France is not only due to the new varieties that make it more accessible. It can also be attributed to the popularity of the women’s national team, widely followed by fans, and commented on in the press and on social media.

For example, on April 29, 2023, over 58,000 spectators turned out at Twickenham Stadium in London for the final of the 2023 Women’s Six Nations Championship, which pitted England against France – a new attendance record.

The media coverage of competitions and players, thanks in particular to interviews conducted by female journalists specializing in the sport, helps to create role models and career paths that are relatable to all women.

Breaking down stereotypes

International bodies have also played a key role in opening up the sport. In 2003, the International Rugby Board introduced the principle of “zero tolerance” for all forms of discrimination, on and off the field. Supported by the member federations, the fight against exclusion continues to make rugby a welcoming sport. Initiatives are also taking place to encourage the representation of women in the refereeing corps, in managerial and coaching positions, and in management positions within individual governing bodies.

There is still a long way to go, and we must not let up in our efforts to overcome entrenched prejudices, but the movement towards inclusion has begun in earnest and we can look to the future with optimism as rugby continues to integrate and promote the values of tolerance, solidarity, respect, sharing, and fair play.

It’s a sport resolutely turned towards others, with diversity at its core. No team can be competitive if it consists of players who are all alike.

Like in a company, each position on a rugby team requires different yet complementary skills. It’s the right combination of these specific skills that creates a team chemistry that results in success.

Diversity and inclusion are also sources of innovation as the wide spectrum of talent allows us to embrace different styles of play, feed off different approaches, and help teams and the sport as a whole to improve. This type of evolution is precisely what will contribute to making rugby competitive and interesting well into the future.

Rugby: A school of life

As a means of promoting humility and solidarity, rugby teaches us to work better together and interact more effectively as a team. It develops communication and leadership skills and also forges players’ personalities by confronting them with defeat and teaching them how to get back up with the collective support of the group to keep striving for more.

The qualities promoted by rugby are strengths for the personal and professional development of each individual who participates. Capgemini embraces this message as a Global Partner of World Rugby’s Women in Rugby program. As part of this initiative, the Group partnered with World Rugby to develop the Women in Rugby Leadership Program, which aims to identify and support current and future generations of female rugby leaders around the world to bring about greater parity in the sport. Each year, 12 female scholarship holders receive access to the best learning programs at Capgemini University.

Rugby has come a long way from its days as an exclusive sport for a small pool of participants. Embracing novel variations, becoming more accessible to people with disabilities, and encouraging gender parity, the sport has expanded its reach far beyond its traditional demographic. With continued initiatives aimed at diversity and inclusion, rugby can continue to increase its impact on the world as an experience that ultimately contributes to improved well-being, a sense of community, and personal fulfilment for everyone.

With our three-year partnership announced in September 2021, we joined the Worldwide Partners family for Rugby World Cup 2023 and became World Rugby’s Global Digital Transformation partner. Rugby World Cup France 2023 brings the rugby family and new fans together for a celebration of 200 years of the sport – Capgemini has worked with France 2023 to enhance the tournament’s unforgettable moments on and off the field.

    Women in Rugby

    Global Partner of Women in Rugby and Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2021