World Cup can lift women’s game, says Balding
Clare Balding has vowed to use her role as the president of the Rugby Football League to “do something special” for women’s rugby league, which she believes can thrive after next year’s World Cup in England.
The broadcaster took over the presidency from former Arsenal footballer Tony Adams this week and will hold the honorary role for a two-year term.
A long-standing advocate of women’s sport, Balding has set her sights on building more opportunities in the elite female game, which received a major boost when Betfred extended its sponsorship of the men’s Super League to the women’s competition last year.
“There are chances for the women’s game to maybe get sponsors that the men’s game wouldn’t be able to,” Balding told a virtual press conference yesterday.
“Instead of going down those traditional routes, I would hope there is a chance to go after – I don’t want to be obvious and say, ‘Let’s go for a make-up company’ – but, there are chances for women’s rugby league to target companies that do want to sell a certain message.
“It’s how the money is used, how it is spent and how it can grow which is important. Those are business decisions as well as sporting ones. It’s going to be a challenge.”
The 49-year-old has been an ardent follower of rugby league, having been given her first chance to present the code in the early 2000s and going on to become the face of the BBC’s coverage.
“I’d like to focus on the growth of the women’s game because I think there’s a great chance to get girls in schools thinking about rugby league,” Balding said. “If they’re athletic, if they’re sporty, if they want to be part of a team, then I think [it] is a terrific option.”
She also cited the simultaneous staging of the men’s, women’s and wheelchair events at next year’s rugby league World Cup – held across England in November – as a “huge appeal” when she was approached by Ralph Rimmer, RFL chief executive, for the role. “I hope next year will make a big difference in the same way it did with women’s football,” she said. “The England team are talking about winning it.”
New frontiers: Clare Balding says there is a ‘great chance to get girls in schools thinking about rugby league’