In an effort to promote greater gender equality in the realm of sport, Mastercard has been championing women’s rugby through a number of initiatives including supporting grassroots rugby through sponsorships of the Golden Lions Rugby Union Women’s League and Senior Women’s Team as well as appointing Piwokuhle Nyanda and Chanel Alberts as new women rugby ambassadors.

Recently, Mastercard entered into a sponsorship agreement with the South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC) to broadcast exclusive women’s grassroots rugby content to ignite an interest in the game. This sponsorship aims to increase the television coverage of women’s grassroots rugby and expand on the continued focus on gender balanced marketing. The amount of broadcast coverage of women’s sport on television is frequently cited as a barrier to engagement as noted by YouGov’s Women in Sport report of 2021.

Please read below the interview with Chanel Alberts, Coach and Rugby Player and Mastercard Woman’s Rugby Ambassador

  • Chanel, tell us about your journey into the world of Rugby?
  • I have always loved watching the game of Rugby and as a little girl, I used to play the sport with all the neighbourhood boys. Later, when I was undergoing my studies at the University of Johannesburg, I finally got the opportunity to play in a more serious environment. I really enjoyed playing both sevens and fifteens of the game. I then eventually entered the world of coaching, and this afforded me the opportunity to share my love, passion and knowledge with the players and that has been a true privilege. The ultimate dream is to create more opportunities for young players and coaches particularly women, and that is what motivates and drives me.

  • What do you love about rugby?
  • It is more than just a game; rugby challenges you as an individual and teaches you some valuable lessons that are can be applied to everyday life . It has the ability to push you to your limits and beyond. You grow as a player or a coach and as an individual. It has its extreme highs and lows, and in that way, it empowers and humbles you at the same time. Being part of a team, means you are part of a sisterhood and a part of something bigger than yourself.

  • What is it like being a woman in sport, particularly rugby in South Africa?
  • The benefits of the organised game are hugely beneficial for women, who have throughout history felt disempowered due to their gender. Rugby is extremely empowering and liberating, as it gives you the freedom to be yourself and that alone is powerful. The game specifically emphasises on mental resilience, courage in the face of adversity, and comradery. The beauty of rugby is that anyone can play the sport, regardless of your background, and can go on to achieve national honours when dedicated to the sport. All it takes is hard work and discipline.

    Skills learnt on the sports field benefit other areas of your life – increased confidence, working as a team, grit and overcoming obstacles. Rugby is for everyone. Despite South Africans’ diverse cultures and backgrounds, rugby has the power to unify people with a shared vision and this makes rugby such a rewarding game.

  • What was/is your biggest struggle as a woman in sport?
  • The “women-playing-a-men’s-game” thought that pervades so much of the game is a serious issue. Women rugby clubs and players are not supported financially to grow the sport and develop themselves. Funding is the key obstacle as professional players are not remunerated. Due to this, the split roles women must assume, as fulltime employees, mothers, caregivers, and students.

    From a sponsorship perspective, many women’s teams do not get the same support from corporate brands, which may be about exposure in the mainstream media. Mastercard is a leader in this field – supporting the growth of the women’s game – sponsorship from grassroots to global. Another challenge is that there are limited opportunities to compete internationally and sponsors like Mastercard can play a role here through opportunities offered that help in strengthening the game and for exposure purposes as well.

    From our side, we are being the change we want to see, we are working on overcoming these challenges by ensuring that we play an exciting and highly competitive game that will draw in audiences, which in turn will lead to more exposure.

  • Why would you recommend that young girls and women getting involved and play the game?
  • It is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. Young girls and women feel liberated when they participate in rugby. It is great for building confidence as it allows you to be yourself and express yourself. It is a great character builder and really helps with developing leadership skills and decision-making. Plus, it is a great way to develop movement skills and overall fitness.

  • As a coach, how important is leadership in the role you play, how do you manage to inspire beyond the team to reach girls who want to follow in your footsteps?
  • Coaching rugby was not always an option, so I really wanted to bring about a change. I wanted to show that with hard work and dedication you can become a coach and have a meaningful impact. As much as the players are learning and growing, being a coach allows you to continuously grow and develop which I really enjoy.

    Managing strong personalities is challenging but also a privilege, because you get to work with the future leaders and hopefully you can contribute to their growth and development. We recently started a youth-led program that will allow us to develop more coaches. This is a wonderful way to develop and grow the game, and hopefully, we can develop a blueprint that can have a positive impact not just on our communities but also globally.

  • What advice would you give to your 17-year-old self and to women in sport who want to accomplish their dreams?
  • Chase your dreams with everything you have in you, that means putting yourself out there and learning as much as possible. Even when if it seems impossible, where there is a will there is a way. Trust yourself and trust the process. Nothing comes easy, everything takes hard work, commitment, and dedication, and when you get stuck, remember why you started in the first place.

  • Growing up and as you decided to start playing Rugby, who did you look up to and why?
  • My dad was my inspiration, he always encouraged me to be better. I had some great coaches as well who really helped me along the way. As a player I admired Richie McCaw, now retired New Zealand professional rugby union player, I always thought his ability to read the game and cover the field was phenomenal, and that was my aim to be the best at what I do and analyse the game as much as possible. As a woman in a male-dominated sport, I find inspiration from the women in my family, my sister, mother, and aunt have been incredible in supporting me and encouraging me to chase my dreams.

  • What is your best rugby memory or career highlight?
  • I always believe the best is yet to come, we still have big dreams to chase down, however, I have loved seeing individuals develop into phenomenal talented players. We have had great success in winning our league both at club and provincial level the last couple of years, and that was a highlight. As a player it was always incredible being part of a sisterhood, the camaraderie and friendships have always been the best part of playing rugby. My biggest goal and obviously the big dream is to make the game accessible to all.

  • In the position you find yourself in, is it an opportunity to promote making a difference and catalyzing social change in areas you care about?
  • I never dreamt that I would be a rugby coach when I was a young girl – playing rugby or even coaching rugby wasn’t even an option. I love rugby but believe there is still a lot of work that still needs to be done in exposing girls to the sport and getting exposure for the women’s game. My goal is to grow and develop the game of rugby, so a young girl can follow their passion for the game.

  • Can you tell us more about the Mastercard partnership with SABC, how has that impacted your team and women rugby in general?
  • Partnerships like that of Mastercard and the South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC) to broadcast exclusive women’s grassroots rugby content ignite an interest in the game and help level the playing field for women’s rugby and as a result increase participation of women in the sport. Support from big corporates, do not only develop and advance our game, but also help to build a more inclusive future where girls have equal opportunity to follow their passion and build careers.

    The visibility brought through Mastercard’s campaign in the media has helped peak interest in the sport. Grassroots women’s rugby is growing at a phenomenal rate, both from a player perspective and from the fans who watch the game. Growth of the GLRU, has seen the number of senior players grow by 118 percent since 2015, while junior teams increased by 364 percent in 2019 compared to 2015.

    Last year, in August 2020, Mastercard expanded their support of women’s grassroots rugby in South Africa by sponsoring the Golden Lions Rugby Union amateur women’s club league, the Women’s Pirates Grand Challenge, and the Lions’ Senior Women’s Team. The sponsorship funding gives players access to training and match day kit, equipment, and coaching clinics.

  • How has being a Mastercard Ambassador been, how does it feel and what are some of the activities you get involved in, in this role?
  • One never thinks to make it this far, to be recognised by a global brand. It has been an exciting journey for me. As a historically male-dominated contact sport, women have until recently not really had the opportunity to consider rugby as a hobby, let alone a career option. But the benefits of the organised game are hugely beneficial for women, whether its playing at a grassroots or national level, or coaching a women’s rugby team. Rugby is extremely empowering and liberating for women and I am proud to partner with Mastercard as we jointly unlock women’s contribution to the game.

    Our role is to help Mastercard bring Priceless Surprises, as well as participating in initiatives designed to raise the visibility and appeal of women’s rugby to a broader range of enthusiasts and inspire more women and girls to play the game. Furthermore, we plan on supporting Mastercard’s role as a long-standing advocate of diversity, inclusion, and partnership to promote good governance and integrity in sport.

    Our Founder, Michelle Korevaar has a #ConversationForChange with Phiwokuhle Nyanda, a Springbok and Golden Lions Women’s Rugby player. They talk about women’s rugby sport, what being a women in sport means for her and some of her peers as well as her role as an ambassador for Mastercard.

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