Exclusive: RFU to take on France in battle to host 2025 Women's World Cup

·6-min read
New Zealand celebrate winning the 2017 Women's World Cup Final at the Kingspan Stadium, Belfast. - PA
New Zealand celebrate winning the 2017 Women's World Cup Final at the Kingspan Stadium, Belfast. - PA

The Rugby Football Union will on Friday unveil hugely ambitious plans to challenge France for the right to host the Women’s World Cup in 2025, Telegraph Sport can reveal.

Sources close to the bid say the governing body are ready to officially submit their declaration of interest to World Rugby for what it is claimed will be the best-attended women’s event in the history of the tournament.

Economic forecasts also predict hosting the tournament would give the UK economy a boost of over £100 million and enhance the country’s reputation for a location to host major international events.

Organisers are confident of attracting a sell-out crowd for the final at Twickenham as well a strong global TV audience.

It is understood the plans include staging matches with a “multi-city and multi-region approach” in order to drive nationwide interest the tournament and create a legacy to ensure the women’s game benefits from a major increase in participation and attracts new volunteers to the sport.

It is hoped that hosting the tournament will result in a huge surge in participation numbers, with targets set of attracting over 50,000 new players to the women’s game, as well as growing its profile globally.

“If we are successful it will be a massive boost not just for women’s rugby but also women’s sport and the wider economy,” said a source close to the bid.

“Hosting the tournament with qualifiers across the country and the final at Twickenham will give anyone a lift after the impact of the pandemic and has the potential to have wide-ranging legacy. This is also about growing the global game too.”

The RFU has also indicated an interest in hosting the men’s World Cup in 2031, but sources suggest that the major focus in on the women’s event. England, currently ranked No 1 in the world rankings, last hosted the event in 2010 and were crowned world champions in 2014.

The government, which underwrote the £80 million tournament fee that the RFU had to guarantee to host the men’s World Cup in 2015, have yet to indicate whether or not it will provide the funding for the women’s event but it is thought it is being considered as part of the spending review, with a decision expected on Oct 27.

The RFU is also thought to be exploring the option of securing private investment to support the bid.

The 2015 tournament generated over £250 million in ticket revenues, delivering an £80 million surplus to World Rugby and a £15 million surplus to the RFU.

The deadline for submissions is January, with a decision expected to be announced by World Rugby next May. France, who are already hosting the men’s World Cup in 2023 are thought to be the main rivals for the women’s tournament.

It is understood that plans also include a legacy programme that could be worth significantly over £50 million for the women’s game and allow the RFU investment tens of millions of pounds into grassroots clubs to help attract hundreds of new female coaches and match officials.

Interestingly, one of the key legacy commitments of this bid will be to grow the women’s game not just in England but across the four Home Unions – with a particular focus on developing over 100 professional female coaches as well as referees to improve standards across the board in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

The women’s game has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity in England in recent years, with participation up to 40,000 registered players in clubs and over 80,000 girls playing at schools level.

It is hoped the event would also spark interest in attending Allianz Premier 15s matches in the seasons leading up to the event.

The legacy programme is also expected to lead to a major investment in facilities standards improved to enhance the experiences females have in hundreds of clubs through investment in facilities the programme will modernise clubhouses across the country.

World Cup a springboard for seismic change

By Rocky Clark, the most capped player in England's history

If England is successful in its bid to host the 2025 Women’s World Cup, it would change the female game in this country forever. It would surely usher the women’s game into a completely new era and be a springboard for seismic change.

Women’s rugby is already going from strength to strength in this part of the world - England are the only fully professional team out of all the home unions - and there would be numerous benefits of hosting women’s rugby’s showpiece event on home soil.

As England’s most capped player - male or female - having played in 137 Tests, I was also lucky enough to play in four World Cups, including the edition in 2010 when England last hosted the tournament. We agonisingly missed out in the final to New Zealand by three points at Twickenham Stoop in a game televised live, but the impact of hosting the tournament was much more tangible than simply being the bridesmaids.

I still remember how the media coverage went through the roof - we had paper cuttings of newspaper articles, magazines and websites pinned up around the changing rooms - and every player enjoyed some level of recognition. Although we didn’t win, heroes of English rugby were made during that World Cup - those like Maggie Alphonsi and Danielle ‘Nolli’ Waterman who have gone on to smash glass ceilings in their punditry work as female voices working across both the men’s and women’s games. Hosting the tournament again in four years time allows the opportunity to create more English heroes, where the likes of Poppy Cleall have the potential to be household names.

Further down the rugby pyramid, it is also likely to lead to an uptick in participation across the grass-roots scene. Before the pandemic, women’s rugby was already one of the fastest growing sports in the country, with new numbers overtaking the growth of the men’s community game. More women playing the game will only continue to push the standard up across the board.

I also think we’ll see a new age of rugby then. I would expect many other international teams - not least the home unions - to have fully professionalised women’s teams by then, which would naturally lead to greater competition on the pitch. It could also serve as a catalyst for semi-professionalism within the Premier 15s, England’s top women’s competition, which wouldn’t be far off its 10-year anniversary by 2025.

In terms of logistics and locations, it would be important to showcase the game as much as possible. The RFU has had a lot of success in recent years staging England women’s Tests all over the country - from Sandy Park to Yorkshire - and I imagine a similar approach would be deployed if it was to be successful in this World Cup bid. Here’s hoping it will happen.

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