Qualifier marks stellar year for Women's game
• Direct global qualification for Rugby World Cup Sevens Women's kicks off this weekend
• Five teams from Europe will be determined in Moscow
• First continent to secure qualifiers with a year to go until Russia 2013
This weekend sees qualification for Rugby World Cup Sevens Women's 2013 begin in earnest, signalling the beginning of a stellar year for one of the fastest growing female team sports in the world.
Over the next 12 months a global qualification process involving all six IRB regions will determine the 11 teams who will join the five already sure of their place at Russia 2013. By the time the process is complete, more than 80 nations will have participated.
The cream of Europe will compete in Moscow this weekend to join hosts Russia and secure one of the five qualification places available via the 16-team tournament.
Wales, Ireland, Croatia and Scotland have kept their Rugby World Cup Sevens dream alive having already progressed through a 22-team pre-qualifier in Belgium earlier this month and with the Netherlands, Spain and an ever-improving Ukraine team challenging Europe’s elite, the event in Moscow is set to be the most competitive to date.
England are seeded in first place, with Spain second and the Netherlands in third thanks to their final standings at the FIRA European Sevens Series in Ameland, Holland on June 9-10.
The qualification process comes at a time when the profile of Women's Rugby is at an all time high. The three stand-alone IRB Women's Sevens Challenge Cup events in 2011/2012 captured the imagination and underscored the highly-competitive nature of the sport as more Unions build partnerships with their National Olympic Committees.
IRB Women's Development Manager Susan Carty said: "There is no doubt that Women's Rugby is going from strength to strength. With more than one million girls and women playing the Game and our international competitions attracting major exposure, Women's Rugby really is making a name for itself as an inclusive, competitive and attractive sport to play and watch."
Steered by a dedicated strategic plan following extensive consultation with Unions, there are now clear development and high performance pathways in place for Member Unions. The inaugural IRB Women's Sevens Series is set to start later this year and Women's Rugby will be front and centre stage throughout 2012 and 2013.
"The next 12 months will be key for the sport,” added Carty.
“We have a fantastic opportunity to showcase the sport at Russia 2013 and during the IRB Women's Sevens World Series, while we are committed to continuing to assist Unions implement the pathways and high performance programmes to develop the sport in order that the Olympic Games event is both competitive and global in make up."
"The start of the direct global qualification process is another significant step along the way. I am anticipating a few surprises and with more than 80 Unions involved, it will provide us with a really good measure of the great strides that are being made across every continent as we countdown to Rio 2016."
After Moscow this weekend, all eyes will turn to the Oceania Women’s Sevens Championship in Fiji on August 3-4 where nine teams will compete for the right to play in the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) regional Qualifier in Pune, India in October. The top three placed teams at this tournament will qualify directly for RWC Sevens 2013.
The 16 team global qualification process is:
Europe: one automatic place (host Russia) plus five qualifiers
Oceania: two automatic places (New Zealand and Australia) plus one team to compete in Asia qualifier
North America/Caribbean:one automatic place (USA) plus one qualifier
Africa: one automatic place (South Africa) plus one qualifier
Asia: three qualifiers (with the best-placed team in Oceania outside of Australia and New Zealand competing)
South America: one qualifier
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