Women’s rugby in South Africa gets boost through Mastercard’s ground-breaking sponsorship deal with SABC
In an effort to pioneer gender equality in sports, Mastercard has entered into a sponsorship agreement with the South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC) to broadcast exclusive women’s grassroots rugby content to ignite an interest in the game. This sponsorship aims to increase the television coverage of women’s grassroots rugby and expand on the continued focus on gender balanced marketing.
In a first for women’s rugby, South Africa’s national broadcaster, the SABC, televises a weekly women’s rugby programme called Women’s Rugby Round-up, a 15-minute programme set to run over 16-weeks. Aired on Sundays on SABC 2 at 12:30pm, the programme content includes highlights from the Mastercard Women’s Pirates Grand Challenge and Mastercard Golden Lions Women in their first division league matches, as well as key behind the scenes footage and interviews with players, coaches, referees and other stakeholders. The aim is to highlight the importance of uplifting the status of women’s grassroots rugby and to take the necessary steps to help level the playing field for women’s rugby.
Noted by international federation and global movement World Rugby, women’s rugby is one of the fastest growing team sports across the globe, with more than 2.7 million women and girls playing the game. This growth is also reflected in the Golden Lions Rugby Union, which has seen the number of senior players increase by 118 percent since 2015, while junior teams increased by 364 percent in 2019 compared to 2015.
Despite the significant growth in the sport, there is a need for education that challenges the current perceptions around the women who play the game. Women’s Rugby Round-up highlights the incredible diversity of the women playing the game, displaying their skills, physicality, bravery, determination and commitment in a full-contact sport. YouGov’s Women in Sport report of 2021, showed the reason people became interested in women’s sports was linked to perception. The study showed that 42% of global respondents watched international events (such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup) and continued to support them even at local league level, while 35% played sports as children and the interest continued.
Another study conducted by The Gender and Media Progress Study (2010) which was the last study conducted around the equality of sports was by Gender Links, highlighted how sports was the most widely covered topic in South African media, over a quarter of all coverage of any topic. Yet women represented only 10 percent of the voices heard, and only 13 percent of journalists reported on the topic.
“Women’s sport is the cornerstone of the SABC Sport content proposition and showing women’s rugby every weekend on our platforms is an exciting part of that strategy” said Gary Rathbone, Head of Sport, SABC. “As the national broadcaster, we reach millions of South Africans across the country, and we know that this show can inspire South African women everywhere to become part of this exciting game,” adds Rathbone. “With Mastercard now on board, we can look forward to delivering an even greater on-air experience with our show that will be enjoyed not only by fans of the women’s game, but by all of South Africa’s rugby fans – regardless of gender or age”.
“When the Jozi Women’s Cup Tournament started in 2017 there were only four teams participating and today the tournament will see 12 teams compete for the champion position. This highlights that more women are now interested in participating in sport as they appreciate the support and recognition,” says Chanel Alberts, Head Coach of Pirates Woman’s Rugby Club. “Having the sports broadcasted on national television will inspire more women to take part and continue growing women sports”.
Mastercard’s sponsorship, which is an integral part of the ‘Start Something Priceless’ platform, builds on the company’s passion-led strategy that aims to inspire people to follow their passion or purpose. In 2019, Mastercard unveiled a Priceless Surprise where its Rugby World Cup 2019 ™ ambassadors, Bryan Habana and Dan Carter, treated the Pirates Women’s Rugby Club in Johannesburg to a priceless talk and field coaching session.
“Women’s rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and Mastercard has been a long-time partner and sponsor at global and local levels”, said Suzanne Morel, Country Manager at Mastercard, South Africa. “Over the years, we have supported grassroot women’s rugby in various forms, and this sponsorship is an additional commitment that highlights our continued faith in women’s rugby. The sponsorship will heighten women’s voices, highlight the challenges they face in the sport, and bring together partners to engage in conversations that will encourage positive change”.
Women in sport face the obstacles of financial support and renumeration, and the largest barrier in relation to this is around broadcast and viewership. The lack of sponsorship in women’s rugby leaves sportswomen playing the game feeling marginalised and seeing no future in turning the game into professional careers as most players are purely passion led. Media is key to overcoming barriers to women’s and girls’ participation and progressively achieving gender equality in sport and increase awareness, engagement while sustaining interest of grassroots women’s tournaments in the country.