World Rugby has announced an extension of its women’s executive leadership scholarship programme ©World Rugby

World Rugby has announced an extension of its women’s executive leadership scholarship programme, following what it claims to be "game-changing" outcomes in its first two years.

The announcement comes ahead of tomorrow's International Women's Day, a focal point in the movement for women's rights.

An additional 12 new scholarships will be awarded in 2020, with the dozen recipients coming from Africa, Asia, Oceania, South America, Europe and North America.

Ten of those have already been confirmed, including Samoa Rugby Union Board member Beth Onesemo, New Zealand Rugby's chief operating officer Nicki Nicol and Spanish Rugby Union's high-performance operations manager Ángela del Pan.

Among the others is Susan Carty, an Irish Rugby Football Union Committee member and World Rugby Council member, as well as Vanessa Doble, head of legal and compliance and company secretary at South African Rugby Union and a World Rugby Council member, and Ando Niaina Herimahefa, the women's referee manager and girls' school rugby manager at Malagasy Rugby.

The list is completed by the Jamaica Rugby Football Union's vice-chairman Keisha-Ann Down, Rugby Oregon President and chief executive Jenn Heinrich - who is also chief executive and co-founder Girls Rugby - Peruvian Rugby Football Union chief executive Sisy Quiroz and Uruguay Rugby Union's national women's team manager Nitzia Formoso.

Asia is due to announce two 2020 scholarships along with an additional two scholarships, having deferred their allocation from 2019, at a later stage this year.

"Ahead of International Women’s Day, I am delighted to confirm that we are extending our game-changing women’s executive leadership scholarship programme, a key strand of the 2017-2025 women in rugby strategy, into 2020 with 12 deserving recipients of great potential," said World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont.

"World Rugby is committed to driving gender balance and ensuring women have equal opportunities in all areas of the game, from the playing field through to the boardroom.

"We have seen first-hand the significant impact the women’s executive leadership scholarships have had among past recipients in accelerating their professional development forward in ways that simply wouldn’t have been possible without the programme."

New Zealand Rugby's chief operating officer Nicki Nicol is among the 10 recipients named by World Rugby ©Getty Images
New Zealand Rugby's chief operating officer Nicki Nicol is among the 10 recipients named by World Rugby ©Getty Images

Originally launched in 2018 as a two-year strategy to accelerate the normalisation of women in key leadership roles on and off the field, the scholarship programme aligns with World Rugby’s transformational governance reform, which has resulted in women comprising more than a third of the International Federation’s 50-strong Council.

The programme offers opportunities for professional and leadership development for women in its member unions and regional associations.

It is open to women who are currently involved in rugby at governance or senior management level or have the potential to be a senior manager within the sport or on a union or region board within two years.

As part of the programme, scholarship recipients can benefit from informal mentoring, with recipients being connected with leaders, both male and female, from the wider global rugby family.

"The executive leadership scholarships have been a real success story since they were first launched in 2018," said Serge Simon, chairman of World Rugby Women’s Advisory Committee.

"It’s an exciting time in the programme as we are now starting to see a direct impact at a global level with talented scholarship recipients moving into decision-making positions at the highest level across the game."

Katie Sadleir, World Rugby's general manager for women's rugby, added: "Over the past two years, we have seen incredible success stories of scholarship recipients being appointed into leadership positions across the game. 

"Through the programme, we have created a truly global and connected network of women, within the wider rugby family, who are leading by example within their respective unions and regional associations.

"For successful and sustained gender balance, we need to ensure that women have the correct professional opportunities for development and the scholarships enable them to attain this."