From The Vaults

04 April 2022
How Scotland Saved the 1994 Rugby World Cup

In January 1994 the Netherlands unexpectedly cancelled the second instalment of the women's Rugby World Cup, but with just 90 days to go Scotland stepped in as hosts and rescued the tournament. Renamed the Women's Rugby World Championship, the event proved to be a significant turning point in the history of the women's game leading to increased recognition of female participation in rugby union from the sport's governing bodies. On the pitch, England put on an incredible performance to overturn their previous defeat in the 1991 women's Rugby World Cup final against the United States, this time winning resoundingly 38-23. But much of the tournament's drama took place off the field.

January, 1994. A wet and cold training session only the most dedicated of players would attend. Yet here they all were, the young Scottish team. Ready and eager to get on the pitch, willing to do anything to prepare for the biggest challenge in their rugby careers, playing in the women's Rugby World Cup. The Scotland team had only played their first full test match on 14th February 1993, winning against Ireland 10-0, but had incredible ambitions for their first international tournament. But a fax arrived which mired their effort that evening at training - the Women's Rugby World Cup was cancelled.

Sue Brodie, Scotland's fullback, recalled what happened next:

"… after training going to the pub down in Leith, chatting about it in the back room, in Tod's Tap […we said] let's just have it here, it's only a tournament. You know so, people were sort of thinking, well, really? And it was a case of just actually if people want to come then we'll organise a tournament, it doesn't actually in a way matter who comes we'll just have a tournament for whoever wants to play in it, because we need to have something to play in, because we are all geared up to play in it." - Sue Brodie interviewed by Dr Lydia Furse, Edinburgh, 4 February 2018.

With just 90 days notice, Sue Brodie galvanised a dedicated group of volunteers to organise the Women's Rugby World Championship. Eleven international teams took up their offer, with notable absences from original hosts the Netherlands and the New Zealand team, both of whom were unable to attend an 'unsanctioned' event. Spain pulled out at the last minute when their national governing body refused to fund the trip, so a Scottish Student's team was formed to round out the tournament in addition to the United States, England, Ireland, France, Japan, Sweden, Russia, Canada, Wales, Kazakhstan, and of course Scotland.

The Women's Rugby World Championship, renamed to avoid any legal issues from the International Rugby Board who owned the trademarked 'Rugby World Cup' title, proved to be an important successor to the original tournament held in 1991 and became another platform to promote women's international rugby. The media took a significant interest and were more amenable to the concept than just 3 years earlier, generally focusing on the games rather than the novelty of women playing rugby union. Sue Brodie, Sandra Colamartino, Sarah Floate, Jan Rowlands, Maureen Sharp, and other volunteer members of the organising committee utilised their professional and personal networks to keep the costs down and, in a reverse of the finances of the 1991 WRWC, the tournament turned a profit.

The local community also came out to support the event. Around 1,000 people watched Scotland's first game against Russia, while a crowd of 5,000 spectators saw England beat the USA in the final to win the World Cup trophy, the same awarded in 1991 and now on display at the World Rugby Museum. This support, both financial and moral, secured the future of the Women's Rugby World Cup. Indeed the tournament was so successful that in October 1994 the International Rugby Board elected to officially support women's rugby, encouraging each of its member unions to integrate any women's rugby organisations into their existing structures. The 1994 Women's Rugby World Championship proved that women's rugby pioneers would persevere in promoting their sport at the highest level, no matter the barriers they faced.

About the Author - Dr Lydia Furse is an expert on the history of women's rugby union and recently completed her PhD from De Montfort University. She co-curated the special exhibition 'The Rugby World Cup: In Her Own Words' at the World Rugby Museum and her forthcoming book will cover the social and cultural history of women in rugby union between 1880 and 2016.