ALL around the world, the sporting landscape is rapidly changing, largely due to the increased numbers of women involved.
Over the past 121 years of the Olympic Games, the world's most prestigious sports event has seen an increase from just 2.2 per cent of participants being female at Paris in 1900 to 48.8 per cent at this year's Tokyo event - highlighting the desire of women to compete at the elite level.
Since 2012, women have participated in every Olympic sport at the Games, as all new sports included in the schedule must contain female events.
Surfing and tennis introduced even prizemoney for men and women in their top-level worldwide competitions from 2019.
Closer to home, from AFLW to NRLW to young girls aspiring to be the next Sam Kerr, every major sport in Australia has taken a proactive approach to growth.
On the NSW South Coast the amount of women's league tag sides in Group Seven has more than quadrupled since the competition's inception in 2010 - with 20 teams now compared to just Kiama, Jamberoo and Warilla-Lake South during their inaugural campaign.
Not to mention there are now eight junior girls league tag competitions running on the South Coast.
Unfortunately, one sport has dropped the footy, even though their grassroots numbers continue to skyrocket.
And in my opinion, it's simply not good enough.
That sport is rugby union.
One can only assume there aren't women in heaven, because the game played up there isn't offered equally to both genders.
Don't get me wrong, the sport was on par with the rest of the major footy codes in the past - as the Super W, introduced in 2018, slowly grew with each passing season (up 20 per cent from the start of the maiden season to the end of the 2019 campaign).
Their women's team, the Wallaroos, finished sixth at the last World Cup in Ireland in 2017.
But for whatever reason, Rugby Australia recently decided to change its national women's elite competition from a five-team home and away season (over a couple of months) to a two-week round-robin (slated from June 25 to July 3) competition - an alteration that has been swept under the carpet.
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For a person like Vincentia's Ash Hewson, who gave her career to rugby and saw it grow first hand while she was playing, it's extremely disappointing.
"I'm not completely sure what their reasoning is behind changing this season's format, as I've heard a couple including, given it's a World Cup year, they [Rugby Australia] thought a round-robin competition would be a better preparation," the former Wallaroos skipper said.
"From my experience and from looking at other country's World Cup preparations, this is not the best method at all.
"Obviously COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the code and we are all understanding of that - which saw the Wallaroos miss close to half a dozen Test matches.
"But it's really disappointing to see the code, that had gone ahead leaps and bounds since the introduction of the Super W competition, take a step backwards.
"I look at other codes, COVID-19 and financial reasons aside, the NRLW competition, in the middle of a pandemic was very successful, while the AFLW speaks for itself - the fact people are travelling interstate, playing in a competition that is extremely popular with fans, shows it can be done.
"For our girls to go back to a round-robin competition, over the course of 10 days and be expected to play an intense game of rugby and back up 48 hours later, is not in the best interest of the code - that kind of turnaround doesn't even happen at a World Cup.
"If the men were in a World Cup year, they wouldn't say 'let's not do Super Rugby this year and play a quick round-robin competition between the franchises' would they? - especially only a couple of months out.
"That obviously wouldn't be very popular with the players and fans.
"Equally as disappointing as the decision is the lack of transparency from Rugby Australia - there are so many factors that come into play to just get onto the field, including taking time off wor. The girls will now have to take two weeks straight off instead of just weekends.
"I know when I was on the RUPA (Rugby Union Players Association) board - which I've now stepped away from after retiring from representative footy - one of the issues brought up for women after a survey was conducted, was the fact players had to take days off work just to play the game they loved, which obviously impacts people and their families financially
"It's just sad they've decided to go back to essentially the old format, which wasn't good for the girls' well-being, especially physically - to be expected to play that standard of rugby on a short turnaround isn't right, especially now that the level has gone up even higher.
"On top of that, the girls won't get to play against each side, rather being split up into two pools. It doesn't give them the chance to showcase their talents, which is at heights never seen before.
"In the end, it's very frustrating to have busted my arse for 12 years to try help grow the game and then when we finally get some momentum, it's completely shut down - I honestly feel the women aren't valued by Rugby Australia. What other reason could there be behind this decision? Other codes are pumping resources into their female versions of the game, which shows how important it is to them."
Earlier this year, Rugby Australia chief executive Rob Clarke explained in a statement that his sport was passionate about growing the women's side of their game.
"Rugby Australia is passionate about the growth of the women's game in Australia and we look forward to working closely with them to showcase our competitions and talented players as well as encouraging more women and girls to pick up a rugby ball," Clarke said.
That statement right now looks like more smoke and mirrors to me.
Don't get me wrong, the sevens aspects of women's rugby in this country is flourishing, with competition's such as the Uni7s series, featuring South Coast's Aroha Spillane, Lily Murdoch, Ana Raduva and Lauren Murty, acting as a perfect stepping stone for the next group of Australia's potential gold medal-winning Olympic stars.
"It's understandable why Rugby Australia is favouring the sevens format because of their success on the international stage, including a gold medal in Rio," the two-time Super W grand final winning Waratahs captain said.
"Winning that 2016 gold medal has made the game explode, which is great - the sevens games has had a fantastic impact on the 15-a-side version, as a lot of the younger girls start in the shorter format before transitioning over to the original product.
"In saying that, they are two very different games, that require their own resources to succeed."
But Rugby Australia can't allow the original version of the sport to fail - which former Vincentia High School student Hewson believes will be hurt long-term unless something is done quickly.
"Seeing the exposure women have in the other codes, be it playing before a NRL match or in front of big AFLW crowds, it will no doubt discourage girls from playing our sport - because they love seeing idols on television and we just don't have that at the moment," the 21 capped Wallaroo said.
"Even current players, in the Wallaroos squad (such as Cobargo's Millie Boyle), have recently decided to go and play rugby league because of the exposure, treatment of the players and for the simple reason of feeling wanted.
"Since I first started playing rugby, the standard has just gone through the roof, largely due to the professionalism around it.
"When I decided to hang the boots up, I was pumped with the direction the sport was heading and that it was in good hands.
"I've recently returned to the Sydney competition as the Gordon captain/coach, in an attempt to try and rebuild this club and have experienced the difficulties first hand at how hard it is to make progress in our great sport."
One current Super W player that didn't make the jump was Bomaderry's Harriet Elleman, who has spent the past two seasons with the ACT Brumbies and was currently preparing for her third before the club informed them of the decision in March.
"After the Super W trials in early March and selection for the extended squad, we had an informal meeting to discuss where the 2021 season was going, our training plans and how the structure of the competition was going to be different," former Nowra High School student Elleman, who plays alongside Narrawallee's Grace Sullivan at the Brumbies, said.
"I was a little disappointed [at the announcement] as I had enjoyed the past season travelling and bonding with my teammates while having the opportunity to play rugby in stadiums and before the Brumbies men's side.
"It's a great feeling to run onto GIO Stadium with your family and friends in the crowd.
"I understand that this is a flow-on effect from the COVID-19-affected 2020 season, so I am just thankful that we still have the opportunity to train at this level and eventually play.
"Unfortunately, it means the competition's progress has stagnated in our country.
"The best way to move forward is to get as much screen time as possible for women's rugby, to garner more interest and hopefully get more women to play and more sponsors who want to be involved.
"I am hoping that the competition will endeavour to do that and all of the representative opportunities that we are provided with within our communities.
"It would be incredible to get our faces out there and our stories heard of how we adapted to training in isolation and the work that we have put in, both on and off the field, to get back to where we are now."
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As her compatriot Elleman alludes to, Hewson knows changes need to be made if the sport of women's rugby is going to continue to flourish for years to come.
"With the World Cup now being postponed 12 months, due to COVID-19, what needs to happen now is first and foremost we get the Super W competition back up and running, just like the men's current Super Rugby AU," she said.
"There's no reason why the women's teams can't play alongside their men's teams during those rounds - I've been part of double-headers before and they were amazing.
"It's imperative if Rugby Australia wants to succeed in Auckland next year, they need to give the top women plenty of game time between now and then.
"With no international travel, there's no reason why teams shouldn't be playing one another week in, week out, which is a realistic break you get between matches at a World Cup - where you play every fifth day.
"To me, it's a no-brainer that's our best way to prepare for a World Cup because otherwise, Rugby Australia has no one to blame but themselves if our women don't achieve like I hope they do.
"Especially when some of our code's top players are walking away to play in other sports, because of the better opportunities they are being presented with and the lack of support from the top of Rugby Australia - it's mind-boggling they can't see it for themselves.
"If they don't act soon and create a serious pathway for young girls to aspire to play in the 15-a-side code, the sport could be in big trouble.
"Equality in sport has obviously been a major talking point for the past five or so years and in my eyes, rugby has no option but to make the investment in the women, who sacrifice everything for the sport they love, now - otherwise they'll start to lose even more players, fans, sponsors and the quality will start to drop over time.
"I know Rugby Australia claimed they were in financial turmoil but they are never going to shut down.
"We have the potential in this country, as shown by that NSW team I was a part of not losing a game since 2013, to be one of, if not the best, women's rugby nations in the world but without that investment, you can't fulfil that potential."