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Equality is the name of the game at Rugby Tens Championship South Africa

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Rugby Tens Championship co-founder Andreea Trufasu says the strive for gender equality and inclusivity in the sport is one of the primary reasons why its second-ever annual tournament will be held in South Africa, a country she believes is well-placed to take its advancement of women’s rugby to the next level. The Rugby Tens Championship (R10C) concept is the brainchild of Trufasu, a former Romanian Olympic swimmer, and her husband Derek Nellmapius, a South African who had previously played club rugby for Pirates Rugby Club in Johannesburg. The inaugural competition took place in the Portuguese city Lisbon in October last year, with the aim to promote equal opportunities for men and women and to develop young talent in the girls and boys age-grade competitions through an alternative pathway.  Following on from the success of last year, Pretoria and Stellenbosch will host the R10C back-to-back next month.  Commenting on the decision to bring the tournament to South Africa, Trufasu said: “One of our objectives is to build on the success of Portugal. South Africa is an interesting environment where rugby is male dominated. Even though we are expats in the USA, we do come from the US environment where women’s sport is much more advanced in terms of equality and resources. We want to show South Africans that girls and women’s rugby is worthwhile playing and worthwhile watching, it’s a pathway and a career for women and to break down some of the stigmas that exist in the rugby landscape for women in South Africa, which people know of, but we don’t talk about.  “The other goal is to help and just do our bit to make a social impact in the women’s community and we try to do so through various aspects, one being to bring in equality for males and females and the second is to showcase that there are organisations that’ll give men and women equal opportunities in terms of management and staff, not just players. And the third — which we can now make public — is to also work with local female creatives and activists. We are creating a very interesting and unique trophy for the franchise championship, which is done by a female artist in South Africa, someone that is an activist for women’s rights as well. So, we try to affect change through various mediums,” she explained.  Since its inception in 2021, the R10C has expanded from four to five franchises, with the Blue Bulls joining the fray as of this year. Each franchise has enrolled a men’s, women’s teams as well as boys and girls age-grade teams, all of whom will be competing in a pool-stage before qualifying for the play-offs for the Cup Tournament in their respective divisions. The franchises will compete for the overall Championship title by earning points based on the performances of their various teams, similar to the format of the constructor’s championship in Formula One.   “We started with four franchises, but this year the Blue Bulls joined. Our aim in the short-term is to have eight franchises and long-term we think 12 would be good,” said Trufasu. “We are growing organically, and the demand is quite high, so we may be surprised by the number of franchises we end up with in future. But again, if we reach eight next year, we are on the right track relative to what we want.” The Rugby Tens Championship attracts some of world rugby’s biggest superstars from 15s and sevens, including but not limited to internationally capped and established players from New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa to name a few. But Trufasu says it’s not just about the descent on South African shores of acclaimed players on show, but also about the improvement and elevation of lesser-known players from the perceived minnow rugby nations.  “Through this initiative, we want to attract interest from different countries. Our fight for equality is not just amongst men and women, it expands to tier one and tier two rugby nations. Tier one rugby nations have a lot of opportunities, resources, and investments at their disposal: tier two countries less so. We want to continue to create a balanced mix of players from tier one and two nations. Last year, a combined 29 countries from tier one, two and three nations were represented. It does come with some challenges in terms of level of play and preparation, but from an interaction and opportunity perspective, we achieved that and hope to do so again in Pretoria and Stellenbosch.  “We also want to show current players that are transitioning or hoping to transition to coaching careers, that there are opportunities worthwhile to them outside of the traditional pathways that may not be so reachable for many players that want to become coaches. Another interaction that we had was the interaction between boys and girls, and men and women. The addition of the youth portion is because there is mentorship involved, there is inspiration and there is a pathway that boys and girls can believe in.  “The tendency is when you get into a professional environment, to allocate less resources to youth. Because the professional environment is more attractive, more exciting. So, we make it a point that our coaches give back to the youth on a regular basis because we do not want to leave the youth behind. We will not have senior players without the proper development of youth.” Further to that end, R10C organisations have made funds available to allow for equal compensation for men and women competing, a feat which is often disregarded across various industries. “My husband and I have our own businesses and we fund a lot of what we do through our businesses. For these two tournaments in South Africa, we combined equality with a capitalist market approach. Each team has the same budget for compensation. For example, the Wild Dogs women’s team has the same budget as its men’s side. But ultimately the head coaches will decide how they allocate those funds among the players. For example, a better player might get paid more, or everybody gets paid equal or there is an equal pay plus a performance bonus rule. What I’ve seen consistently, is that all franchises pay players within the team equally. Some decided to put a little aside for bonuses, some decided not to. But to circle back to the original question, yes men and women have the same compensation allocated to them.” Touching on whether South Africa in particular, and Africa in general, can significantly narrow the inequality gap across all sport formats with the right resources and investments in the near future, Trufasu is adamant it can be done over, but warned against comparisons with a first-world country like the USA. “Women’s sport in the USA is extremely advanced compared to most other countries. Equality is an everyday process, and it still has some way to go. I do believe that South Africa is in a very good position to advance women’s sport. The desire and motivation for equality is there, it’s just that we’re working from different perspectives to break down the stigmas. Equality is a work in progress. It requires a daily education in how it’s implemented, and it requires honest intent and those ingredients are well within the South African community on a majority basis. Bringing the Tens here and receiving the support and interest that we have to date, solidifies our belief that it can become more like other countries where men and women are closer to being equal than not.” The Pretoria leg will be played over the weekend of 7-8 October and the Stellenbosch leg will be hosted the following weekend 14-15. 

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Media release issued by Terras Communications on behalf of Rugby Tens Championship

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