Great potential for Women's Rugby in Japan

(IRB.COM) Tuesday 22 February 2011
 Great potential for Women's Rugby in Japan
The Conference on Women's Rugby proved a big success

With the profile of Women’s Rugby raised around the globe following the record-breaking World Cup in England last autumn, the potential to grow the Game further is now being tapped into by countries such as Japan.

Every year the Japanese Association for Women in Sport (JWS), which focuses on increasing women’s participation in sport across the country, hosts a conference with a different theme, this year’s being Women’s Rugby and how to develop the sport in Japan.

Hosted by the Japanese Rugby Football Union (JRFU) at their offices in Tokyo, IRB Women’s Development Manager Susan Carty travelled to Japan recently as the key speaker for the Conference.

During her presentation, Carty highlighted the fact that girls and women play Rugby in more than 100 countries worldwide, across all six of the IRB’s Regional Associations, with pathways, structures and policies helping the Game to flourish.

Carty was also able to pass on the many lessons learned in other countries, that building a sense of community and raising the profile of the Game through role models are all useful tools to reach new audiences and attract new players.

Inspired by World Cup

There are currently more than 1,000 women playing Rugby in Japan, but there are opportunities to grow the Game further, particularly with the country to host the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and Rugby Sevens’ inclusion in the Olympics Games from 2016.

Women’s Rugby has recently been fully integrated into the JRFU, which will open up new avenues with greater resources and support for the sport to help it overcome challenges such as it not being regarded as a traditional sport for women.

The first women’s clubs were formed nearly 30 years ago and now number more than 20, while a youth development programme established in 2003 is now starting to bear fruit with Japan dreaming of playing on the Women’s Rugby World Cup stage again.

Japan lost out to Kazakhstan for qualification for the 2010 tournament, but such was their desire to improve that the team travelled to England, playing two matches against English clubs before attending the World Cup final between New Zealand and the hosts.

The desire to mix it with the world’s best women’s teams on the international stage is now proving an inspiration and hard work behind the scenes is encouraging more girls and women to try their hand at Rugby.

Learning from other sports

The ability to learn from other sports and draw from their experiences in overcoming hurdles along the way was highlighted by the fact that Eiji Ueda, former coach of the Japanese national women’s football team and the current Director of Women’s Football in the country, was another of the speakers at the Conference.

Ueda talked about the strategies used in football to help the women’s team to fifth in the world, but also their plans for the future to ensure the progress continues, not just on the world stage but also domestically in Japan.

His personal experience is one often heard of in women’s sport, that he believed football was not a sport for women until seeing them play, getting involved and being enthused by their commitment and eagerness to learn and improve.

Ueda is now one of the biggest advocates of women’s football, just as Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 was a turning point in shattering preconceptions of the standard of the Women’s Game with record coverage bringing the sport to new audiences around the world.

Noriko Kishida, Chairperson of the Women’s Rugby Sub-Committee and the final speaker at the Conference, believes there is “a lot of potential” for the sport in Japan, a sentiment echoed by JWS Executive Director Etsuko Ogasawara.

Potential for rapid progress

“It was important to stage this conference because usually it is not easy for one sport organisation to communicate with other organisations in order to share the experience and lessons they have learned,” Ogasawara said.

“However, we will start a brand new Japanese national project to promote female athletes from 2011, so it was perfect timing. We were able to show examples of sharing ideas to collaborate with each other by using our strengths.

“I hope we will see more young girls and women who naturally believe that they can play rugby in Japan. I think Women’s Rugby has the most powerful potential to progress rapidly.”

Carty, who also had meetings with the JRFU and visited the National Training Centre and Japan Institute of Sports during her visit, added: “It was a very positive and worthwhile Conference, the JWS have really embraced the opportunity and potential of Women’s Rugby in Japan.

“The JRFU have also demonstrated their commitment by recently integrating Women’s Rugby into the Union. They are very enthusiastic about increasing women’s participating in the Game ... this is a very exciting time for Women’s Rugby in Japan.”