South America and Rio embrace women's rugby
In her latest column article, the IRB's Women's Development Manager Susan Carty charts her current trip to South America, which has involved visits to Argentina, Brazil and now Colombia.
As I leave Rio after a well run and exciting South American Sevens Championship, it is pleasing to reflect on the progress that women's rugby development is making in the region.
I first travelled to South America almost three years ago and there is no doubt women's rugby has reached new levels since then. My first stop this time was Argentina's capital Buenos Aires and it was hugely positive to see that the national women's squad now comes under the High Performance department, the union clearly setting their sights on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
It was fascinating also to hear Santiago Gomez Cora speak about his journey so far with women's rugby. 'Santi' is still the leading all-time try scorer in IRB Sevens rugby, so has been in the game a long time, but when it was first suggested to him that he coach the Argentine women's team, his response was one of surprise.
Having not been involved with the women's game, he didn't know what to expect but after only a short time with the girls he says that any concerns he had disappeared. Their commitment, eagerness to learn and fast progress has really impressed him. It was encouraging to see this commitment too, and to see the girls training alongside the men's team and gaining from all of their expertise.
On to Rio and the day before the tournament, which was also doubling as the last of the regional qualifiers for Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow, the big decision-makers in South American rugby met to reaffirm their commitment to women's rugby. They are very positive and enthusiastic about the progress being made in the region. Being in or even near Rio really focuses minds towards the Olympic Games in 2016 and you can sense the excitement in the region. We finished the meetings with agreement on priorities for the future development of the women's game in South America, including more competition and participation and better 'pathways' for girls to climb the ladder to the various national teams, if they're good enough.
The next two days were filled with competitive rugby and highlighted the progress being made on the pitch. It was my first time to see many of these teams in action and their professionalism, preparation and attitude were all impressive.
Venezuela were the surprise package of the tournament, securing a place in the Cup semi-finals. Their coach, Marisell Mendez Sayago, was one of the first women to play rugby in Venezuela and competed in the inaugural CONSUR South American Sevens back in 2004, going on to captain the side. Marisell was recently appointed as coach and is really enjoying the role. She is happy with what the girls achieved in Rio but for her this is just the start. She is looking forward to more success and to seeing more women and girls playing the game in Venezuela.
None of the teams were more excited to be in Rio than the Colombian girls and their coach David Jaramillo Gomez. This was his first tournament with them, having previously coached men's teams in Colombia, and he is enjoying his new role with the women's team, who are either students, social workers and even fashion designers!
All were delighted to take a break from their work and studies to be in Rio and, while they were disappointed not to progress to the Cup semis, they were happy with their performance on day two and travelled home as Bowl winners. I look forward to learning more about the progress in Colombia when I visit their Union later this week.
Brazil went on to win the tournament and become South American champions, and most importantly they also qualified for the RWC Sevens in Moscow in June. It was great to see the level of media interest around the women's team - they really are becoming stars in their country - and they will be watching eagerly online when the pool draw takes place in Moscow on Thursday.
Before leaving Rio, the women's coaches joined us for a workshop focusing on the next steps to progress the Women's Game and it is inspiring to see people who already give so much of their time and energy so eager to do even more. One cannot help but wonder what we will be saying about women's rugby when we return to Rio for the Olympic Games in 2016.
As we progress women and girls in rugby around the world, join us in marking this on International Women's Day, which will take place on Friday, 8 March. The theme for this year's IWD is "The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum", which fits very nicely with how women's rugby is progressing globally. Watch this space and follow us on @irbwomens for more details!
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