Clare Balding believes the women's game can really spread rugby league's gospel

CLARE Balding believes sisters can do it for themselves and rugby league can grow through the women’s game.

And while the 13-a-side code can still get better in inclusivity and diversity, she believes it is way ahead of other sports.

The broadcaster has replaced former Arsenal and England defender Tony Adams as president of the Rugby Football League.

Seeing a woman, especially one closely linked to horse racing, in such a senior position in one of the toughest sports on the planet may seem strange to some.

But she believes seeing huge men talk openly about their own struggles in life opened her eyes to how special it can be.

“Their openness surprised me and there are a lot of misconceptions and assumptions surrounding rugby league. One of them is it’s full of alpha males that aren’t going to shed a tear,” she said.

“Across the game, there’s an honesty and an intelligence that’s very appealing to people as players are generally as honest about their struggles as their success.

“And as a sport, it’s willing to look at itself and go, ‘Are we getting it right?’

“The first thing I’d say is, ‘It’s got further to go, there are always improvements that can be made,’ but there are some really good examples rugby league offers of inclusivity and diversity right at the top of the tree.

“I think it's ahead of the curve in many ways. Football’s always going to be the trendy kid in the playground but rugby league has an awful lot more to offer.”

Balding, who has the role for two years, highlights the fact Brazil has a team in the women’s World Cup next year as a reason why it can spread.

And she hopes to start getting the game played at schools in areas away from the traditional M62 corridor, both of which can attract new money to a sport where cash is far from king.

She added: “2021 can make as big a difference for rugby league, in the same way as the World Cup did for women’s football.

“And there are chances for the women’s game to maybe get sponsors the men’s game wouldn’t be able to. Instead of going down those traditional routes of betting or alcohol companies, I’d hope there’s a chance for women’s rugby league to sell a certain message.

“We should have a brainstorming session and talk about specific companies that we know are trying to appeal to a female customer base and say, ‘This is not only something where you can get your name out there but your customer base will see that and think, ‘This is a good decision.’’

“You’ve got to get the financials right, that’s why women’s tennis has traditionally been so successful. They got a sponsor on board and that’s what gave them credibility – money talks and it always will.”

 

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