“Sport has the power to change the world,” Nelson Mandela once said and the former South African president who himself was no stranger to life-changing actions, concluded that “It has the power to inspire…It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”

The word legacy is often used to describe the effect that global sports tournaments have on the long-term economic or social benefits after a major event but the Rugby League World Cup has proved somewhat different.

As the most inclusive competition in the sport’s history, the legacy began even before the first ball was kicked at St James’ Park last month.  Bringing together the Men’s, Women’s, Wheelchair & Physical Disability squads, the spectacle of the sport is something to behold, but the true stories lie away from the world class stadia, the training facilities, the press conferences or Instagram.  The truth lies in the living rooms, the workplaces, the bus queues, the school playgrounds…

Conversations about the physicality of the Pacific Island nations, the Movember moustaches, overcoming adversity and the missing limbs of some of the athletes are now commonplace.

Anyone who has seen the BBC iPlayer – Women of Steel documentary wouldn’t have failed to be captivated by the emotional rollercoaster of the women battling to secure a place in the England squad, despite not being paid professionals and having to hold down full-time jobs whilst balancing life and training commitments along the way.

Our EmpowHER project, supported by Assura has harnessed these inspirational women and many others involved in Rugby League as a volunteer, coach, official or spectator to “unite people in a way that little else does”.

Aimed at girls in local schools and women who had no previous connections to the sport, the project has equipped females with the confidence, skills and support to try (no pun intended!) new things, safe in the knowledge that they would not be expected to pick up a rugby ball and strive to become the next Jodie Cunningham, Emily Rudge or Amy Hardcastle.

Through a series of interactive issue-based sessions, EmpowHER has trained young females as sports leaders, encouraged vulnerable women to become volunteers at RLWC events in Warrington and most importantly shown a new audience that Rugby League ‘has the power to inspire’ building self esteem and an encouraging support network along the way.


Rugby League has a unique ability to develop a sense of belonging and the females who have now been EmpowHER’d are testament to the role of sport in changing their world.