Rugby renames “the Women’s World Cup” “the World Cup”, and why that is awesome news

August 2019

World Rugby has done something this week that no other major sporting federation has done, and in the process resolved one of sport’s most obvious markers of inequality; gender marking.

Gender marking is any situation where, either verbally or visually, male athletes and men’s sport is presented as the norm; In this case, calling the men’s Rugby World Cup, “the Rugby World Cup” and the women’s version, “the Women’s World Cup”. We see this in lots of other sports too, in football with “the Women’s World Cup” and “the Women’s FA Cup”, and in golf the “Women’s British Open”. The men’s equivalents are “the World Cup” and “the FA Cup” in football, and “the British Open” in golf. Very easily the men’s version of these tournaments becomes the norm, with the women’s being seen as abnormal, or second class.

We also see this phenomena in our work with schools, which is why it formed part of our “Girls and Sport Pledge” when we launched it last year. School tournaments will often include a gender split, with “girls’ football” being the most common example, where a boys’ or mixed tournament (which unless the rules specify otherwise is likely to be boy-dominated in numbers), would not specify. The rules for mixed tournaments can gender mark in another more subtle way too. They will often stipulate, for example in a 6-a-side team, “at least 3 girls”, further implying that to make the game more “fair”, and without an advantage to one team, girls must be included. A more gender-neutral way of requiring an equal split of genders would be to say “at least 3 girls and at least 3 boys”, avoiding the implication that the team must include less able players, who wouldn’t otherwise be included purely on merit.

Our Director Natalie Jackson said in light of World Rugby’s announcement this week, “It may seem like a small change in the language they are using, but it is a massive step forward for equality in sporting terms.  Our Girls and Sport Pledge encourages schools and organisations to make sure that they are sending the right messages to girls and boys about sport. An unconscious marking of women’s tournaments as the lesser alternative to the men’s tournament is one place where a strong message is sent that men’s sport is more important than women’s. This applies whether it is in a school tournament or in a national or international setting. We very much welcome this news and would love to see other sports following suit.”

Schools (or world sporting federations!) can sign up to Totally Runable’s Girls and Sport Pledge FREE here or by typing “Girls and Sport Pledge” into your search engine. Over 100 schools and sports organisations have signed up to the pledge since it was launched in October 2018.