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Growing women's rugby in South America

As ten teams gather in Montevideo to compete for South America's two spots in the Sevens World Cup this weekend (12th - 13th November), Barbara Pichot - Sudamérica Rugby first-ever Women's Rugby Coordinator . was interviewed by Martin Bassino about her plans for the development of the women's game on the continent.

With thanks to Thomas Wheelock for the translation

Barbara Pichot is proving to be an inspirational figure in the embryonic world of South American women’s rugby. Since her appointment in Septemner 2020she has worked “24-7” to promote the women’s game in Sudamerica Rugby’s 16 member countries. Before COVID-19 intervened, Pichot had made 45 rugby-related trips and visited Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Colombia and Costa Rica and Panamá, and understands first-hand the needs in the region.

Back in April she saud “If you ask me, ’Barbie, do you have leaders in the region that can help you do this?' I say no, there are only men. At the moment, people from a club, from a Federation, from a Union, a player … they all talk to me. I am like an open book for everyone, trying to solve problems. “We need more women to help spread the game throughout the regions and to get to where I am. We need leaders in each country who can become regional leaders. We can look at what other regions have done and adapt it, all in the joy of a growing sport.

“First, we have to work on the grassroots and then go up through the pathways. In Brazil, the women’s sevens team is playing at quite a good level internationally but they don’t have what we would call grassroots rugby, rugby for younger children. They have dedicated all their money to high performance so what we are trying to do is putting some Get into Rugby activity, or something like that, into every part of Brazil, so the little ones can start playing. I want to invert the pyramid.

“I would love to have many little girls playing rugby with the boys, with their daddies taking their daughters down to their clubs to play. It is going to take a little bit more work but that is my view.”

Six month later she was interview in Uruguay in advance of this weekend's continental qualifier for the Sevens World Cup.

"The 2021 edition of the Valentín Martínez will be held this weekend and two teams will qualify to the Rugby World Cup 7’s in 2022. South American COVID restrictions have made many players anxious and worried. Uruguay has had a hard lockdown and to put on the tourbament we have had to go through tons of red tapes. This year will have the highest participation ever with 10 women’s teams* in the tournament and managing expectations and how to organise the games and the logistics in current Pandemic world, with constant changes on the continent, has been tough."

"Off the field November was already one the busiest months for South American women's rugby. Two women’s academies being held in November, one for training trainers and one for coaching – some of the women selected will be doing both roles. In addition, there will be a High Performance Academy in Mar del Plata, from November 27 to December 4, with representatives of the six unions that have high performance programmes.

"Since 2020 and the support of World Rugby and in conjunction with the members of South American Rugby Federation have been training women coaches with 21 now qualified for High Performance and seven now training otehr coaches. The principle is to cascade this to the clubs and increase women’s participation. The new women’s programme which has been approved will qualify the coaches as trainers and teach both men and women.

"The coaching pathway is designed to get women’s players into coaching to help create more coaches and referees.Since 2020 the process has been to invite the most promising women’s coaches in the region using a selection process and selections by the federations, so as to avoid previous pitfalls and errors caused by allowing just “everyone” to show up. Any new candidates would be dircted to the following year's academy so as to be ultimately sustainable on yearly basis.

"The Academy will be held in Casa Pumas and will include all aspects of rugby including sports science, atlhough is emphasis will be on XVs. This academy is a means to expand the women’s coaching base. In addition to make international XV viable club programmes need to be sustainable. So we need a bottom up approach - instead of just having international sides we have to have a solid club base.

"At present 4100 women’s players involved in Rugby - from a high of 6000 before the Pandemic - and we are hoping players will return. Major problem is high costs of travelling to tournaments and Covid restrictions everywhere and this must be taken in consideration when planning. An example Costa Rica to Uruguay - travel costs are almost as much as a business class ticket from South America to Miami!

One of the big plans is to retain girls from the age of 14 years - as many are lost to the sport at that age - by buliding a playing pathway and a club base for teenagers, and from there an Academy Programme with theory in the morning and practical in the afternoon. Ultimately the aim is to build a proper XVs programme. It will take time but we are aiming for a direct qualification to the Wold Cup by 2027 or 2031 depending on embedding the programme properly in the countries of the region.

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*The draw for the tournament is:

Pool A: Brasil, Uruguay, Argentina, Costa Rica and Guatemala
Pool B: Paraguay, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Panama

Venezuela are the big name missing - although they appear to have had training sessions