New Zealand: Women's Rugby World Cup winners awarded pro contracts

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Story highlights

  • New Zealand women's 15s rugby players receive professional contracts
  • Black Ferns stars to receive up to $32,000
  • Over a quarter of all players across the globe are now female

(CNN)They've won five of the past six Women's Rugby World Cups, dominating the game to an even greater extent than their male counterparts, the All Blacks.

Now New Zealand's Black Ferns are set to receive professional contracts for the first time, with at least 30 of the country's best female 15-a-side players reportedly earning up to NZ$45,000 ($32,000).
"Myself and my teammates are now rewarded for playing the game we love, and while it is not a full-time salary, it is a great start," wrote Black Ferns half back Kendra Cocksedge in an opinion piece.
    "This is what I hope is just the beginning of opening up pathways for women's XVs players, just like our past players opened up pathways for us."
    For Selica Winiata, a member of the 2015 World Cup-winning squad, the announcement could pave the way for the next generation of Kiwi women to wear the famous shirt.
    "Girls out there that are keen to play rugby, you've got a lot to strive towards today," said Winiata, addressing young rugby players at St Mary's College in Wellington.
    "There are so many more opportunities for you, and that's thanks to the girls that have gone before us."
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    'A significant milestone'

    In addition to a salary, the 30 contracted players will receive elite-level training and support, "in line with other national teams and professional players."
    In return, it is expected that they assemble for approximately 50 days per year for training camps and fixtures.
    New Zealand Rugby (NZR) Players' Association chief Rob Nichol called it a "significant milestone" for the women's game.
    "It is a long-term sustainable model that offers genuine pathways and support for female players on and off the field, and that we can build on in the future," said Nichol.
    "It is a credit to those players who over several decades have built such a strong platform, based on an outstanding culture and phenomenal international success, that has enabled this professional performance program to come to fruition."
    As recently as August last year, the Black Ferns overcame England in the women's World Cup final while subsisting on a daily allowance. Many, including Winiata who is also a police constable, had no choice but to work other jobs.
    Not only were their beaten opponents fully professional, they also had to make the long flight to New Zealand in economy class.
    Now they are the world's only women's XV team with fully professional contracts, after England's Rugby Football Union diverted its money to the sevens game.
    "The Black Ferns -- and the Black Ferns Sevens -- have rapidly grown in profile, statue, and relevance on the international stage," said NZR CEO Steve Tew. "This agreement supports them to be the best they can be when wearing the black jersey."

    New ground

    The agreement is not the only good news for women's rugby in recent months.
    Change is also afoot in Australia, where Raelene Castle became the game's first female chief executive in December 2017.
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    One of the first major developments during her tenure has been pay parity for Australia's male and female sevens players, announced in January 2018.
    "Athletes are training just as hard as the men, delivering commercial outcomes like the men are and therefore you can start to have not only the rational conversation about equality but also the more emotive conversation about it," Castle told CNN's World Rugby.
    "It's an enormous step forward for our women's sevens team and I absolutely believe it's the right one."
    An entry level salary of 44,500 Australian dollars ($35,000) for both Aussie teams was described by co-captain Shannon Parry as "a great day for women's sport."

    'Inevitable'

    And it appears things are only going to get better.
    There has been a 150% increase in registered female rugby players in the last five years, according to the sport's governing body. Over a quarter of all players across the globe are now female.
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    In November 2017, the Black Ferns became the first wmen's side crowned Team of the Year in the history of the World Rugby Awards, ending the hegemony of the All Blacks.
    Earlier this week, captain Fiao'o Fa'amausili became the first woman to appear on the cover of the Rugby Almanack, the world's longest-running rugby book.
    "It's exciting for women's rugby," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, reflecting on Monday's announcement. "Men's rugby had to wait over 100 years to go professional."
    "It was inevitable that it was going to happen for women's rugby, so the sooner the better."