'We need to make sure that this is the message that we're sending - Rugby is for everybody'

Nolli Waterman has seen the impact HSBC have had on and off the field during the Sevens season
©James Robinson

This year’s HSBC World Sevens Series has seen an amplification in showcasing women in sport both on and off the pitch.

From a playing perspective, this season has seen more women’s games than ever in the World Series, with seven out of 11 stages being played by the women’s teams as well as men’s.

Away from the field, they’ve also launched a programme to introduce young adults around the world to different career opportunities in the sports industry.

Danielle ‘Nolli’ Waterman, former England and Great Britain player turned commentator and pundit and now HSBC Global Ambassador shared her thoughts on the steps taken by HSBC to increase the women’s stages in the series.

She said: "From my perspective what's really opened my eyes since I retired, is actually that these things don't just happen. What is really awesome is the investment from HSBC as the global sponsor to say 'no we need to change this and we need to make sure that this is the message that we're sending is that rugby is for everybody.'

Whether it's tag rugby and it's the first time at grassroots with girls and boys, whether it's on the other end of the spectrum of the elite side, I was the first ever Global Ambassador who was a woman and I go to men's events as much as I do the women's and I think that that message of making sure that everybody feels welcome, everybody feels part of a community that rugby is building, is super special.

"As I say it doesn't just happen, it requires a lot of decisions and making sure that it's not just an “oh we'll put the women on together and we'll play them on the outside pitches". In recent years, the men's and the women's are on the same pitch getting the same exposure. If there are too many games going on, both men's and women's play on the outside [pitches] just to keep the tournament flowing or whatever it is.”

Former Ireland international Greg O’Shea, who now works in the media as well as being a Global Ambassador, has also praised the work of HSBC in beginning to close the gap between the number of men’s and women’s stages on the series and looks forward to seeing full parity in years to come.

"It has to be this way. I'm actually surprised it's taken this long, “he said. “You need brands like HSBC to get behind it and make it happen. It's going to change into both men's and women's teams next year which is the way it has to be and it's just more fun for everybody.”

O’Shea is also hugely impressed by the talent on display in the women’s competition.

He said: "The women are some of the best players around. Maddison Levi, she plays for the Australia Sevens, she has more tries in fewer tournaments than the top try scorer in the men's, and he's played more tournaments. She is just killing it. People like Stacey Waaka, who's the best 15s player in the world but also playing sevens. Her skill level is top-notch. Some of those games are incredible to watch and I can't wait for next season to see more women's games in the main arena, it's going to be incredible."

Off the field, Waterman also stresses the importance of the visibility of women in roles within the wider sporting industry, such as commentary, and creating an environment where everyone feels welcome.

She said: "From my perspective as an ambassador but also from an officiating perspective, you're seeing far more females involved. From a commentating perspective for example with Rikki Swannell, now it's absolutely a mainstay as a lead commentator on the men's and the women's. I think that exposure to everybody is super important because we all feel it and it's brilliant and we can talk about it, but people from the outside also need to understand that they're welcome here.”

In order for more women to be involved in sports media, the opportunities to work in such professions must be visible.

Women are one of many groups who have historically been - and are still in many cases - underrepresented in sports media. For this to be challenged and rectified, systems must be put in place to be a launchpad for progression. Simply acknowledging the lack of diversity is not enough.

The HSBC World of Opportunity programme was created with an aim to give young adults across the globe exposure to the vast variety of professions within sport which span beyond being a professional athlete.

Before the World Series taking place in Dubai, Sydney, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong, Global Ambassadors were joined by professionals from the sports industry to showcase the careers on offer to a selected group of local teenagers.

This included taster sessions on commentary, press conferences, social media content creation, tournament directing, photography, podcasting, coaching, PR and communications, and public speaking to name a few. 

Initiatives like this are particularly important in inspiring the next generation of women to be involved with sport by giving them the ability to visualise potential future pathways for themselves.

Additionally, this benefits not only women but also other groups of people who have often been absent from the press packs of old by providing them with the knowledge and experience to explore the jobs they may have never considered before.

Waterman plays a part in delivering these sessions alongside other ambassadors and is passionate about helping young people see the many available avenues that can be taken to be part of the sporting world regardless of athletic ability.

She said: “Whether you can be a professional sevens player that can go to an Olympic Games and play on the HSBC World Series, or whether you can go and be a referee in the middle of the field, and I think one of the things that we've been doing with HSBC with the World of Opportunity programme is highlighting all of those areas around elite sport. I think because of the success of the women's game, what's happening is it's absolutely engaging girls with that.

"You've got young girls seeing that actually I might not be an elite player, but I love sport, I love the energy, I love the atmosphere, and I can go to university and I can study sports marketing, or I can go into journalism, I can go and be a medic, and yet I can still be involved with these rockstars on these fields, tour the world, do that type of thing.

“The programme, in particular, has been so cool because the split of girls and boys has been pretty much 50/50, the ones that are listening and engaging actually in Hong Kong were the girls. The questions they were asking were amazing. They did some interviews and I thought you're better than me and this is my job!”

In order for meaningful change to continue to permeate what is often in many ways an outdated industry in terms of diversity, an active rather than passive approach must be taken such as the introduction of the World of Opportunity programme.

While HSBC continues to promote the involvement of women in sport from a rugby perspective by increasing the frequency of stages of the series that women are part of, their commitment to showcasing the breadth of job opportunities available to the next generation will be equally important in changing the landscape in the sports media which has lacked diversity for far too long.

HSBC along with their Global Ambassadors are paving the way for change and have set a strong precedent for other organisations to follow.