Rugby World Cup: New Zealand embraces chance to add to growing movement of women's sport, says tournament director Michelle Hooper

The upcoming Rugby World Cup will give New Zealand its chance to add to the growing global movement of women's sport, tournament director Michelle Hooper says. 

On Saturday, the women's Rugby World Cup kicks off at Auckland's Eden Park, with three matches played as a triple header.

South Africa and France open, followed by Fiji and tournament favourites England, before the Black Ferns close out in a trans-Tasman clash against Australia.

The Black Ferns.
The Black Ferns. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

And aside from the action on field, pop megastar Rita Ora will also take to the stage as part of the opening day.

But delayed by more than a year because of COVID-19, the disruption to the tournament has proven to be a blessing in disguise, Hooper said.

In fact, the additional time to prepare will allow this year's Rugby World Cup to capitalise on the momentum of women's sport, growing worldwide.

"It's been an incredible rollercoaster of a journey," Hooper told AM. "One of the things we're celebrating is it couldn't be a better moment in time than right now.

"It was postponed by 13 months, devastating for the players and everyone involved. But in hindsight, it could not have been better.

"The momentum for women's sport globally has just completely shifted. As you can see, with 38,000 tickets sold for Eden Park on Saturday night, 1900 left to sell, we're going to sell out Eden Park for the first time in history for women's sport.

"That's New Zealand's moment to own in history for women, for women's sport and for rugby.

"[There's] no better nation in the world to own that title."

Already in 2022, women's sport has broken records in terms of viewing figures for pinnacle events.

The 2022 Women's Cricket World Cup was the sport's most engaged with event, seeing a total of 82.8 viewers.

The women's Rugby World Cup.
The women's Rugby World Cup. Photo credit: Image - Photosport

Meanwhile, more than 365 million tuned in for football's European Championship, as audiences responded to an increased supply of women's sport coverage.

And for World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin, rugby as a sport is ready to join the wave of support for women's competition.

"There's this incredible momentum for women's sport all over the world," he said. "We're getting to do rugby's part of that.

"This is more than double the crowd of the last Women's World Cup final, in Ireland back in 2017.

"So it's a pretty steep trajectory."

What's more, the increased interest in women's rugby will continue to benefit the World Cup moving forward

This year's edition will be the women's World Cup's last as a 12-team format, with expansion on the cards for the next tournament, held in England in 2025.

"We've got a 12 team World Cup now, we're going to expand to 16 teams in the next edition in three years' time," he added.

"It's a compact tournament. There's going to some great atmosphere at all those venues.

"It'll be a great opportunity for people who maybe haven't experienced women's rugby before to get out there and see it.

"We know Kiwis like a bit of rugby so it's going to be great."

Watch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join us on Saturday for live updates of the Black Ferns v Australia World Cup opener.