Francesca Gallina hopes to use her new position as Chairperson of the Rugby Europe Women’s Sub-Committee to help ensure that the knowledge and expertise of former female players is retained within the game.
Gallina, who represented Italy at Rugby World Cup 2002 and sits on the Federazione Italiana Rugby (FIR) board, was elected to the Women’s Sub-Committee on a four-year term in September.
It is not a role that she thought would be open to her when she was younger, and Gallina is keen to show current players that there are now numerous ways in which they can stay involved with the game even after they have hung up their boots.
The Italian chaired her first sub-committee meeting two weeks ago and has identified three pillars on which to build her tenure, the most important being to develop female leaders.
“We are focusing on governance and leadership since we think that if you have women as leaders and if women become aware of what they can do for rugby once they stop playing, you make a step forward in development,” Gallina told World Rugby.
“It's a cultural revolution, what we need to work on. On one hand, [we need] to make women feel comfortable with all those kinds of actions, which are not on the field, which are not only working with kids.
“[We need to convince women that] you can train kids. You can also train at a high level. You can also be a referee at a high level. You can also be a part of the government of the union.
“Women need to know that they can do it, and they need maybe an example, but they also need practical help.”
Giving back to the sport
Gallina admits she did not know that pathways to leadership roles off the pitch existed for women when she was a player.
However, her passion for the game and commitment to improving those structures was clear earlier this year when she made around 200 phone calls to clubs in Italy to canvass support for the FIR board elections.
It proved a successful ploy as Gallina was voted in as a player representative and she faces a busy few years juggling her commitments on the FIR board and Rugby Europe Women’s Sub-Committee with life as a university professor and mother in Pisa.
“I received a call last year from Marzio Innocenti, the FIR President, and she asked me, ‘Why don’t you try to be a candidate for the elections?’” Gallina said.
“I said: ‘Well, why not?’ It's a good opportunity also to stay in rugby, not on the pitch, out of the pitch and to try to do something for the sport, which gave me so much.
“I try to give something back since I received a lot from this sport.”
Making women’s rugby more visible
The former international second-row, who featured against England at RWC 2002, believes qualification for next year’s tournament can have a big impact on the women’s game in her homeland.
“It could be a great opportunity to make women's rugby more visible. For the qualifier, all three Italy matches were broadcast on public television for free in the afternoon,” she said.
“They had a good share [of viewing figures] … so, we were very, very happy and also the public television was very happy with that.
“And so, this is a good sign. It means that people have started watching also female rugby if you just broadcast it, if we make it clear and easy to find.
“So, I think that the next World Cup will be another opportunity to give the chance to anyone, any girl, any kid to watch. ‘Oh, what are they doing? I can do it as they do’.
“This is a great opportunity, absolutely.”
Gallina says that today’s women’s game is a “different world” to the one in which she first started playing more than two decades ago.
But she understands both Rugby Europe and FIR face a challenge to ensure that female participation numbers continue to grow amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“In Italy, the pandemic had a bigger impact on women's rugby than on men's rugby,” Gallina said.
“I don't know if this is only an Italian situation. I'm afraid it is a more general situation.
“And so, on this basis, we need to work [and be] aware that we’ve lost a lot of players, a lot of opportunities as well.
“So, we need to work harder on that to fill the gap.”