Sport as we know it may have only existed for less than 200 years but already it has deep rooted perceptions that can be difficult to alter.
Some are positive but equally plenty are negative, arguably the most prevalent of which is that women have no place in certain activities and events.
While it’s true progress is happening, there is still a long way to go before women are wholly accepted as coming close to their male counterparts – just look at the abuse Alex Scott and Eni Aluko received for being employed as pundits at the recent men’s football World Cup.
However there is one sport in particular which is well and truly on its way to smashing that stereotype: rugby.
While success on the pitch – the XV-a-side squad won the World Cup in 2014 and came second in 2017, while the sevens team medalled at both Rio 2016 and Gold Coast 2018 – is certainly a factor behind this, they also have the fantastic Inner Warrior campaign which is introducing a whole new audience to the game.
So long seen as the quintessential, boys-grammar-school-only sport, Inner Warrior is playing a pivotal role in completely obliterating that image and showing that rugby is a sport just as open to women as it is to men.
The first camps – which give women the chance to learn the basics of the game and give them a taster – were held early last year as part of the RFU’s project to get 25,000 women participating in contact rugby by this summer.
But just a few months after the scheme was released that target had already been hit a full year ahead of schedule – it was initially a four year plan running from 2014-2018 – with Inner Warrior also smashing its proposed targets.
In May 2017 alone more than 2,600 women took part in 150 Warrior Camps across the country, a 73% increase on their original target and forming a significant portion of the 7,000 women who had attended training sessions since January 2017.
By the end of the year more than 10,500 women had attended various camps, with 3,500 of those having never picked up an oval-shaped ball before. Furthermore, the number of women who then wanted to further their playing and participate regularly was so great that 41 brand new teams were founded.
In comparison to the total number of women in the UK these figures might not seem like much but, in context, they are astounding. To have achieved that level of growth in such a short space of time is superb.
As well as being a great idea, this is in part down to clever timing on behalf of the RFU. As is the case with every sport, it’s always the major events that attract new people, especially if their nation does well.
There is a reason why the initial strategy and then the Inner Warrior camps were launched at the start of years that included World Cups in which England were expected to do well, while last year the whole tournament was shown live and free-to-air on ITV.
For so long women have not had the opportunity to go and emulate the players who have inspired them on their screens but now, thanks to Inner Warrior, they do.
The importance of this cannot be underestimated – the momentum surrounding a sport can so quickly dissipate after a major tournament but with these camps their legacy can continue to live on and help discover a future generation of talent players.
It’s not only the timing that has impressed but also the project message itself. It is very clear and simple but also highly effective – every women has an ‘inner warrior’ they can find and unleash through rugby.
In a world where women have been oppressed for so long this is a bold and empowering statement and almost certainly one which has played a huge part in the success of the camps.
The visuals surrounding the message are similarly simplistic but powerful. They depict women of all shapes, sizes, age and ethnicity showing attributes for so long they were told they couldn’t have – strength, speed, bravery, courage, determination.
The numbers may be strong but perhaps the biggest indicator as to how successful the Inner Warrior campaign is that so many of the players are fully on board and reinforcing the message via their social channels.
While it is certain that they would have been asked to post this, to see the likes of Tamara Taylor and Emily Scarratt really driving forward the message shows just how important it is to everybody within the RFU.
— Tamara Taylor (@Timmytammy8) May 15, 2017
The players know they are blazing a trail and making huge strides to showing rugby is a sport for men and women and they are also showing they are keen to show that anyone – no matter who they are or where they come from – can play.
Yes there are so many fantastic campaigns run by teams and NGBs encouraging women to take up their sport but there is a reason why the Inner Warrior campaign won the ‘Inspiring Initiative – Nation’ prize at the 2018 Women’s Sport Trust #BeAGameChanger Awards.
And that’s because it’s bloody brilliant.