Women’s rugby in the Italian context | sportanddev.org – sportanddev.org

Despite its numbers, in recent years the Italian women’s sector has shown that it has the quality and temperament to face nations with the most important structures and dedicated funds; our goal is to fuel its growth both as far as numbers and quality. Today 30% of clubs have at least one female team, and 19 clubs out of 560 have a complete range. Only 3 clubs out of 560 in Italy have a complete male and female range.

LC: Should you be elected President of the FIR, how do you intend to develop the female movement?

EM:To give a concrete change to the female sports world, the first action is to work on cultural change. How? By developing a resource dedicated only to women in the marketing sector, to work on communication, as well as internal and external marketing.

For external marketing, we want to make the club, families and companies understand the value of our sport for women as a valid testimonial and tool for those who support equality and inclusion; certainly one of the tools will be the production of specially-made video materials addressed to different corporate / school / institutional worlds.

For internal marketing, it is very important to work together to increase the number of clubs with women, helping these clubs consolidate their female sector or start communicating it effectively.

Small but important actions, such as:

  • Increasing the number of female rugby images in every FIR facility, meeting point and high-visibility sites such as at the Federation and in Moletolo, so that anyone, fans and/or possible sponsors entering the facilities become aware of both realities
  • Increase the communications dedicated to men and women, such as flyers, posters, photos on the sites; interact with parents at school to dispel fear related to the stereotype of the “male rugby player”, talking instead about how much our sport supports a solid growth in self-esteem
  • Sustain the club in communicating the female project within the club to allow families, who already take their children to the club, better know the value of the women’s training course
  • Encourage and create sharing groups of best practices, i.e. create a regional network among clubs, capable of sharing the actions and initiatives that have produced results, so as to create a support network between clubs for an organic growth of the entire sector

LC: How do you intend working on the very complicated problem of recruiting in the feminine world?

EM: There are two main points: 

  1. We need to start from the foundation, by building sport facilities. What is the most common reason given by clubs without a female team for not developing the female sector? “Sorry, but we don’t have enough changing rooms.” Our reply is, we need to support those clubs to develolp a female sector. In the request for economical support from FIR to clubs for funds dedicated to sport facilities structures, there will be a coefficient dedicated to clubs with female activity. The lack of adequate facilities is one of the reasons why many clubs do not hold women’s activities.
  2. The proposal for recruiting women in mini-rugby is an experiment: multisport. This experimentation will initially be done only with young girls, but if this project bears the hoped-for results, it will be applied to all of mini rugby; that is, we will create protocols with other federations to facilitate collaborations with sports that have different seasons (e.g. athletics) or are of different types (e.g. individual sports) to create a partnership, and let girls try different disciplines. A concrete example could be a “sports card” that allows girls to try different sports in the same season at the same price, so that they can choose the one they enjoy or are passionate about the most.

Other proposals to support recruitment:

  • Creating an algorithm to financially support clubs who have Under-12s girls on the field for the entire season
  • Presenting rugby in schools to show principals, teachers and parents that they should not fear such contact sports
  • Proposing a girls-only match at the end of each mini rugby grouping

LC: What are the vision and projects you have in mind for the juniors and seniors?

EM: To further support the development of the women’s sector we should provide economic support to women’s teams to develop U-14s, U-16s and U-18s, particularly recognising those who have the complete range. 

In particular:

  • Under-14s: We propose that the female Under-14s also fulfil the obligation for the male seniors Under-16s.
  • Under-18s: For the Under-18s championship, we believe that FIR needs longer experimentation to evaluate its results. The development of the category will be carried out by the clubs, as happens with the men, but supported and supervised by the technical staff of the areas.
  • The format of the Coppa Italia should be changed so that at the end of the 7-a-side competitions, the teams are united to play a guided 15-a-side game. Regional competitions should be changed to area competitions (composed by more regions), which will allow us to work further with female players of the Coppa Italia. 
  • 15’s Championnship: The most valid formula in today’s context is one where teams are divided into territorial and élite groups. We do not believe in revolution, we believe in evolution. 

LC: How can the quality of the first series championship be raised?

EM: By increasing the quality of the female players coming from the Coppa Italia (as I said earlier) and by increasing the number of female players (increased marketing promotion of the female sector in media, a further focus on recruiting from the bottom and strengthening of recruitment in the university world).

LC: How do you intend working to develop the Rugby Sevens sector?

EM: This has two aspects:

  1. Recruitment: We will strengthen our relationship with the University world, focusing mainly on freshmen, who will create a 7-a-side championship lasting all year in parallel with the 15’s championship, culminating in a summer tournament in which they will play clubs from the 15’s. This “parallel” reality could interest female athletes from other sports, and gives a choice to the female players of the Coppa Italia, and open games to girls who approach rugby in adulthood.
  2. Quality: The Under-20s High Performance Center will have a specialized area dedicated to the 7’s, in which we will work in a qualitative way with female players from the youth teams, aiming towards a national team specialized only on 7’s, a fundamental choice to qualify for the next Olympic games.

LC: Which are the female national team’s future goals, both on a technical and economic level?

EM: We can think of starting a process of gradual professionalization, at least of the players in the National team selection. To continue growing, it is necessary for our National team to get to semi-professionalism within the next four years. A first step has already been taken this year with the creation of scholarships for some athletes, but it is essential to allow athletes to really dedicate the necessary time to our sport; it is also important to give the players greater support along the path to become “Azzurre” (who play for the Italian team), and to the organization of the women’s high level.

We would like to create an Under 20s High Performance Centre with two specializations: 1) 15-a-side rugby 2) 7’s rugby in which the best female players from all over Italy will be selected from the clubs and the 7-a-side university movement. The athletes of the High Performance Centre will continue to play with their own clubs, but will also participate as a “super team” in a 15-player tournament with elite clubs, European teams and international 7’s tournaments.

LC: How do you intend to support the development of: female coaches, referees, veterans and managers?

EM: We firmly believe in the value of the all-round women’s rugby world. We also believe that growth in numbers is fundamental, and so is the quality of other sectors.

Women’s Veterans Rugby: Structuring and supporting the development of the veterans world, to give the possibility of playing even to those who approach rugby as adults or those who want to keep playing but – due to work or family issues – can no longer carry out a competitive activity. The formula is the same as in the “Coppa Italia”, i.e. groups of 7 with final matches of 15.

Creation of an international circuit by connecting to the international veterans men’s world (e.g. creating an international network by relying on EVRA for example), a first step already taken with the participation in the EVRA tournament organized by the Belluno Fossils in 2018.

Women’s Touch Rugby: We propose a strengthening of communication with the families of male and female players, involving mothers (parents in general) by making them enter the field, thus increasing loyalty to the club.

Women Coaches: There must be more osmosis in the coaching sector and the quality of a coach should not lie in gender (men who train men – women who train women). At the same time, we firmly believe that coaching women is different from coaching men. This is why for those who wish to coach women, we propose a specialization course with the many foreign associations working this way and which inspired us, for example the American Women’s Rugby Coaches Association (WRCRA): for over 20 years they have been working and studying the specific characteristics of female teaching.

Female Referees: Out of 688 referees, only 54 are women. We would like to work in this direction too, starting from communication, creating a series of videos about the life of a referee, etc, thus making people know and understand the peculiarities of a fundamental role on the field, the quality of the game and the technical growth of our game. Increasing the numbers to raise the quality of our male and female referees is essential for the growth of our rugby.

Women’s Club Development Managers: Women have always been part of the backbone of every club, even without “a title” or training courses; we believe that giving these people the tools to better support our clubs is a founding brick for our global growth. In recent years, courses for club development managers have been started and they are essential to enrich and strengthen the training for those who – off the field – really make the wheel of any club turn.

We believe that greater support for the women’s sector is not only fundamental for the growth of our sport in terms of quality and numbers, but it is also a question of consistency. Our aim within the next four years: 

  • 60% of clubs with at least one women’s club
  • 40 clubs out of 560 with a complete junior and senior sectors
  • 10 clubs out of 560 in Italy with a complete female and male sectors

Erika Morri has participated in 2 Rugby World Cups, 7 European Championships and has spent 12 years on the Italian National Rugby Team. She is a member of the Italian Rugby Federation Board since 2016, and is a member of the Committee for the Developement of Female Rugby in Europe, organized by Rugby Europe in 2018. 

In her professional life she believes in diversity as key to business growth and supports companies by enhancing their ideas and talents through marketing and training.

As a business trainer, she is specialized in experiential team building that combines rugby and creativity. She started a creative start-up – Elecktrochic – creating conceptual jewels made with electric cables, inspired by the women who changed the world over the centuries 

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