New Zealand Rugby’s (NZR) chief transformational officer (CTO), Nicki Nicol, imagines the day – hopefully in the not-too-distant future – when the country’s women’s team has the same worldwide identity as the instantly recognisable men’s side.
Nicol admits it’s a bold dream, but why not think big?
“The All Blacks are very much a world-renowned brand and we’re starting to see the Black Ferns build towards that thanks to the remarkable women involved,” Nicki said.
“A big part of the Women in Rugby strategy is to lift the profile of our athletes and that’s what we’re doing.
“You’ve got to keep in mind the All Blacks have been around over 100 years and the Black Ferns about 20, so there is a big catch up.
“But we are closing in fast and it’s not going to take 80 years to make up the ground. It’s up to us to keep up the momentum.”
Building momentum has been a challenge for sporting codes around the world over the past two years.
NZR has not been immune, with the 2021 Rugby World Cup playing in 2022 the biggest casualty in COVID’s relentless assault on major events.
But Nicol – a glass half-full, reach-for-the-sky administrator – prefers to look on the bright side of the tournament being postponed until October 2022.
She believes the event can fast-track the push to lessen the gap between the men’s and women’s game.
“When you come out of COVID it’s a chance to rebuild. We’ve been quite thoughtful about how we rebuild to make things even better,” she said.
“We want to reimagine the sport, to lead and support the organisation around changes right across the sport.
“And the Rugby World Cup is a fantastic opportunity to super-charge the women’s game.
“It’s quite exciting and the silver lining is I think it will be a much better tournament for having the extra time.
“We’re also lucky to have cricket and football World Cups (coming to New Zealand), and an International Working Group on Women & Sport Conference so it’s a big couple of years and great for women’s sport in New Zealand.”
Nicol has been with NZR since 2017, heading up the specially-created CTO role as well as serving as Chief Financial Officer.
She is encouraged by the changes she has overseen and witnessed in the women’s game, both on the park and away from it.
Nicki said; “There are lots of cool things we’re doing on the field with 7s and 15s but there are also a lot of cool things off the field with leadership roles, whether it’s coaching, managing teams, administration or governance.
“The focus has been on having more diversity. Having a more diverse set of voices around our board table is a really good thing for our game.
“We know what sport can do for women and communities…build resilience, lifelong friendships.
“To retain girls and women in our sport, the environment’s got to be welcoming and inclusive. We’ve got some amazing people championing this part of the game.
“We just want to see women given the same access afforded to men for a long time.”
Nicol was World Rugby’s 2020 Executive Leadership scholarship recipient but the pandemic has diverted her attention to the post-COVID rebuild.
Still, the program has provided some wonderful opportunities.
“I meet with an independent coach and the focus is on how do I keep influencing the transformational change that we’re trying to achieve,” she explained.
“When you bring in new ideas that are quite ambitious, how do you take people with you?
“It’s been good to think about strategies and stakeholder management.
“The whole process has been very positive.”
Nicol jokes there is no such things as a ‘normal day’ in her role but it’s clear her work is her passion, alongside juggling a busy family life.
“It’s a real privilege to be involved in a national sport and that also has its responsibilities,” she said.
“And as a big part of Oceania, we’ve got a huge role to play in supporting the region.
“There is always more to do.”
Article adapted from the Oceania Rugby website.