Former Bursar Deborah Griffin will become the first woman President of the Rugby Football Union (RFU)

We interviewed Deborah as the RFU announced the news

By Emma Menniss 4min read

“I started playing rugby in 1978” explains Deborah Griffin.  “When I was at University College London (UCL) I had a boyfriend who was on the men’s rugby team. King’s College and UCL would regularly challenge each other to sports matches and so the girlfriends of some of the rugby players decided to form a women’s side and challenge King’s to a game.” The UCL team won, Deborah scored her first try and was hooked. “As we left the pitch, I felt like it was the best thing I had ever done.” This match is now understood to be the first UK women’s game of the modern era.

Kings asked for a return match, then the UCL men toured to Keele University, the women asked Keele if they could field a women’s team and it snowballed from there. “The Women’s Rugby Football Union, (RFUW), was formed in 1983 and in 1985 the American women’s rugby team toured the UK and they beat all the UK teams which made us raise our game considerably.” However, it was not until 1994 that the RFUW had its first employed member of staff. Between 2010 - 2012, the RFUW became integrated into the RFU. Deborah was chair of the integration board and on the RFU board. Deborah played in the 1991 World Cup and in the 1992-3 season. She had a family and in 2002 moved into the administration of the RFUW and was later during her tenure as Bursar of Homerton, was also Secretary of the Cambridge University Rugby Club .  

Having worked in corporate finance in the City, in 2012 she became Bursar of Homerton College, a role she held for 10 years before her retirement in 2022.

Whilst at Homerton it was Deborah who championed sport as part of the student experience. There was not even a gym on site when she started the job, something she rectified early on. She wrote a strategy for sport at Homerton and sought to resolve finding a permanent, fully equipped home for the College Boat Club, HCBC. The club were renting racks from Trinity Boat Club, but had no dedicated riverside home.

When the City of Cambridge Rowing Club’s boat house they leased from St Mary’s School - needed renovation, Deborah saw an opportunity for a mutually beneficial partnership which resulted in a new shared boathouse home for HCBC with excellent facilities including equipment, bar and boat maintenance.

Importance of sport at university

Deborah explained that she “believes that there is a sport for everyone, you just need to find it. University gives you a chance to start again and try something new, which is particularly true of rowing, a sport often begun at university. The ethos of team sport is also an important one for mental health and wellbeing, offering a counterpoint to studying and the opportunity to do something else, to stop and go training. The need to be attentive and present in the moment is crucial for team sports and sport can be the antidote to over-working, which is not good for health, mind or work itself. Being physically active, particularly in the open air, is good for body and spirit.”

What of the women’s game today?

“As the women’s game continues to grow, so the quality of play improves and the audience increases, but there is always more to be done,” says Deborah. “Rugby is traditionally a male-only sport, played by males for male gaze. The men’s team is still the dominant one and receives the lion-share of funding. The women’s team need to be fully involved at every level of the administration, as well as in the game, working as coaches, referees and in governance. We need to welcome them in and make them want to stay.”

Deborah feels a mixture of emotions at her new appointment; “excited, scared; it’s quite a responsibility and is not just an ambassadorial role. It’s a big responsibility as the first woman to be elected.” She is aware that she may be judged more harshly than a man in the same role, that there will be sceptics and greater scrutiny, but her appointment was unanimous and her qualifications flawless.

She will begin the road to her new role on 1 August 2023, formally becoming the first woman President of the Rugby Football Union in 2025. HCBC’s new boat is christened ‘Griffin’ in her honour.


Naming Griffin
HCBC Womens
Deborah Griffin
eff Blackett, President of the Rugby Football Union 2020-21 and Deborah Griffin