Rugby World Cup: World Rugby hopes NZ tournament sparks change in gender equality

With the Rugby World Cup just five days away, World Rugby admits gaps still exist between the men's and women's games - part of the ever-present issue of equality they hope the NZ tournament will help address.

The stage has been set for Saturday's opening games at an official welcoming ceremony at Auckland, but the spotlight has turned to the underlying problem in the disparity between the women's and men's games.

"I would like to see equal treatment to the men's [game]," Black Ferns captain Ruahei Demant told Newshub. "That would probably be the end goal."

That vision is shared by World Rugby, which remains confident this campaign will kickstart change.

"This tournament will be the fuse for what will be a golden decade of opportunity of certainty and growth for women's test rugby," said World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin.

As it stands, there's a huge gap, as many of the players who'll feature at the World Cup attest.

"At the moment, we're very much amateurs," said Australia captain Shannon Parry. "We're working full-time and juggling rugby at the same time."

Canada star Sophie Goede added: "We're not yet contracted professionally through Rugby Canada, but we're hoping to get there and we're hoping a strong result at this World Cup will help us get there."

World Rugby has begun the process of narrowing the gap slowly, but steadily, with the World Cup poised to expand from 12 to 16 teams from 2025 and the introduction of the WXV - an annual three-tier women's test rugby competition, beginning next year.

All Blacks and Black Ferns gather at Eden Park captain's run
All Blacks and Black Ferns gather at Eden Park captain's run. Photo credit: Photosport

"I think it will be tough [to implement our vision]," said director of women's rugby Sally. "But with some strong investment behind it and hard work, I think we can get there."

But as it stands, the Black Ferns are faced with the harsh reality of the gap they're trying to bridge.

"We're celebrating 30,000 tickets sold [for the opening day at Eden Park]," said Demant. "I guarantee you if this was the men's World Cup, it would've been sold out months ago."

Lifting the World Cup in six-weeks' time may be the immediate focus, but the work continues long after the silverware is gone.

Watch the Rugby World Cup live on Spark Sport or free-to-air on Three, or join us on October 8 for live updates of the Black Ferns v Australia World Cup opener