By STELLA MILLS
ONE year out from the Women’s World Cup, headline sponsor Mastercard have named England hero Maggie Alphonsi as one of their three global brand ambassadors in an effort to inspire women’s rugby stars of the future.
Back row Alphonsi, who won 74 caps for the Red Roses and helped them win the World Cup in 2014, is joined by New Zealand wing Portia Woodman and France back row Safi N’Diaye.
Speaking exclusively to The Rugby Paper, Alphonsi said: “When I think about my own rugby journey, I had no role models. There was no one who looked or sounded like me, and because of that I have a drive to help the next generation of players.
“I never thought at any stage in my life that I would be successful, I always had people telling me I wouldn’t make it. My life turned around and I want to be able to help the girls out there who don’t have any support and who have no one to guide them.”
Looking ahead to next year’s World Cup, which was due to be played this year but was delayed due to Covid-19, Alphonsi recognises women’s rugby still has some significant challenges to overcome.
“If we want to develop the sport, we need to have more women in decisionmaking positions,” she says. “We need to increase the diversity on boards and committees to move forward.”
With new amendments to the format, the tournament window of the World Cup has increased from 23 to 35 days. This will guarantee longer rest periods between matches, but for fans it means matches will be restricted to weekend only affairs.
While Alphonsi wants England to triumph at the tournament in New Zealand, she would also like to see other nations emerge to challenge the established order.
“Deep down inside I always want England to win, but I want it to be a competitive tournament,” she says. “I would love to see a different team rise through the ranks and win it, as traditionally the contest has been between England and New Zealand.
“I just want to see other teams get some recognition for the hard work they have put in. Hopefully we will see a real competitive spectacle.”
The potential of the women’s game was confirmed by Mastercard’s five-year sponsorship commitment to World Rugby’s Women in Rugby Programme, as well as being the first worldwide partner for Rugby World Cup 2021 and 2025.
Speaking of the importance of sponsorship, Alphonsi added: “Funding is going to make a huge difference to next year’s tournament. We now have strong sponsors, which will only result in boosting the profile of women’s rugby globally. With big sponsors comes bigger visibility, which works to grow the game far beyond the World Cup cycle.
“If I think back to the World Cups I have been involved in, every four years the tournament just gets bigger and better. In 2017, the product was good, the broadcasting was great and as a result we gained a record number of viewers.”
She added: “Next year’s World Cup is happening in New Zealand, a country that is known for its love of rugby. If everything comes together in terms of broadcasting opportunities, player performance and sponsorship deals, we should have a recordbreaking tournament to look forward to.”