An Interview with Erika Morri of the Italian Rugby Federation
(Translated from an interview by Lorenzo CIrri for the blog, Ladies Rugby Club)
Erika Morri has been a member of the Italian Rugby Federation board from 2016 to present. She’s also a member of the Committee for the Development of Women’s Rugby in Europe. Erika played for Italy in two World Cups and was on the Italian National team for seven European championships.
Erika is one of the very few women in FIR and has been a strong advocate for the growth of women’s rugby in Italy and across Europe. The Italian women’s national team has had an impressive showing on the international stage given the modest player pool. As Erika offered in a recent conversation, women’s rugby in Italy like most of Europe is dependent upon men’s clubs. There are no university teams and very few women’s teams can exist as ‘stand-alone’ clubs.
But Erika sees progress as 30% of clubs in Italy have at least one female team and 19 clubs (out of 560) have youth to senior women’s teams.
1. How can Italy further develop women’s rugby?
We need cultural change. Italy needs to dedicate more resources to women’s rugby particularly in the areas of marketing and communication.
We want rugby clubs, communities, families and companies to understand the value of women’s rugby. For that to happen we need to increase the numbers of clubs with women’s teams and the numbers of women in leadership positions at every level.
I believe that there are a number of small but important actions, we can take:
Increase the number of images of women’s rugby in every FIR facility so that anyone, fans and possible sponsors see women as a valued part of FIR.
Develop a regular marketing series of flyers, posters, photos.
Meet with parents at schools to address the stereotypes of rugby and make a case for the value of rugby to young girls and women.
Create a regional network among clubs to quickly share best practices that have increased female participation.
2. How can we recruit more girls and women into rugby?
A significant challenge is that current sport facilities are inadequate and the facilities become an excuse to omit women. The most common reason given by clubs for not having a women’s team is: “Sorry, but we don’t have enough changing rooms.” FIR needs to encourage and incentivize clubs to improve their facilities and, in some cases, give clubs the resources to create adequate spaces to allow women to participate.
We also need to expand our thinking about ways to encourage young girls to play. We are currently experimenting with ‘mini rugby’ as a way to get girls from other sports to try rugby. We hope to collaborate with other sport federations to encourage cross-over sports for girls out of season. While co-ed mini rugby is great, it’s also important that we create opportunities for girls to play on all-girl teams.
3. What can be done to improve junior and senior women’s rugby?
We need financial support that is proportional to the number of women's teams. We also need to reward clubs for developing a complete range of women’s teams (U14s, U16s and U18s). In terms of the senior women’s 15’s pool, the numbers remain a challenge.
Given those numbers, it’s best to divide teams into territorial and elite groups for a championship series. We could also use the Coppa Italia as a venue to identify 15’s talent. Regional competitions could be enlarged into an Area competition (composed by more regions) allowing players to face different players than those in the Coppa Italia.
This, in turn, would raise the quality of play in the First Series Championship.
4. How do you intend to work to develop women’s 7’s?
We need to create University 7’s teams and a 7's championship series. This series could parallel the 15’s championship and culminate in a summer tournament in which university teams play clubs. This parallel play could increase interest from athletes in other sports.
To improve the national 7’s program we also need to create an under 20’s high performance center dedicated to 7's. This would allow us to identify and work with players from youth teams who could specialize in 7’s. An under 20s high performance center could specialize in both 15’s and 7’s. The best players from all over Italy could have residencies while continuing to play with their clubs. The players in residence could create a super-developmental team entering 15-player tournaments with elite clubs, European teams, and international 7's tournaments.
5. How can the FIR support the development of women coaches, referees, and managers?
We firmly believe that coaching women is different from coaching men. We propose a course specifically focused on coaching women. We could work with associations like the Women's Rugby Coaches and Referees Association (WRCRA) who are committed to increasing the numbers of women coaches and who have materials specific to coaching women.
Out of the 688 referees in Italy, only 54 are women. We need to use marketing to increase the numbers of women referees.
Last but not least we need to develop women’s club managers. Women have always been part of the backbone of every club, even without a title or training courses; we need to identify women and give them the tools to become club managers. In recent years, courses for club development managers have been started.
6. What are some goals for the future?
In the next 4 years we hope:
60% of clubs with at least one women’s club
40 clubs out of 560 with a complete junior and senior sectors
10 clubs out of 560 in Italy with a complete female and male sectors