UNB Alumni
Telling our #ProudlyUNB stories

Blazing trails for women in rugby around the world

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on Nov 14, 2023

Category: UNB Fredericton , Kinesiology , Inspiring Stories

Cristina Flores Justic (BPE’83) describes herself as a bit of a rebel.

The daughter of a diplomat, Cristina attended a private French school in Mexico City, but, craving more action and adventure, soon found herself studying at Bishop’s College School in Canada. After finishing high school, she made her way to the University of New Brunswick for an undergraduate degree, flourished during her time in the physical education program. “I loved sports and biology, so it was good fit for me.”

It was also at UNB when she began a lifelong career of trailblazing for women.

“My boyfriend at the time played on the rugby team and all of the girlfriends would watch the games on the sidelines, wanting to play ourselves. The coach, of course, said no. So, we started our own team. I had met Roger Moore on the sidelines, a Spanish professor at St. Thomas University, and he told me that if you find a coach and manager, he’d help us create a team at STU. Our first year was in 1979 with 15 girls on the team. We played against the Fredericton High School women’s rugby team, other women’s teams in the region and teams in Boston. I played wing my first season, until a game against the Boston Women where our hooker got her nose smashed, and they put me at hook, with no experience and weighing maybe 95 pounds wet! But I loved it, and have played that position ever since.”

After graduating from UNB, Cristina and her soon-to-be husband moved to St. Catharines, Ontario as he started playing rugby in there. Again, there were no women’s teams for her to play on. She joined the St. Catharines Rugby Club as fixtures secretary, the only woman on the board, until she moved to Hamilton, Ontario. After having her three children, she attended McMaster University for a degree in psychology, and started playing again with the university’s rugby club as well as with the Hamilton Hornets Rugby Club in the summers – winning the Niagara Rugby Union championships three years in a row.

In 1997, the Hamilton Hornets hosted the Pan-American Rugby Association (PARA) tournament, and Cristina, fluent in three languages, took on the role of translator and Canadian liaison for the Uruguay and Argentina teams. “PARA was the qualifier at the time for the Rugby World Cup, and it was the first time televising the event in Canada. At one point, there was an incident where I needed to use diplomacy to resolve a dispute with a referee. Rugby Canada took notice, and the Niagara Rugby Union (NRU) asked me to join their board – the first woman to do so.”

Cristina and the NRU would go on to organize the PARA Tournament for two more years and the Canadian Women’s National Championships for the next three years. She became passionate about growing the number of women in the sport and was elected to the Rugby Canada Board. She was the first woman on the North America West Indies Rugby Association (now known as Rugby Americas North), as the Canadian Rugby Board representative and as the treasurer.

She was also working at the Consulate General of Mexico in Toronto, and her life took a turn when she accepted a diplomatic post in Montreal as the consul in charge of Cultural and Academic Affairs at the Consulate General of Mexico. Subsequently, she took on the role of executive director of the Canadian Council for the Americas and helped transform it to become the “go-to” public forum for discussion on Canada’s trade and investment in Latin America. She also volunteered for the Mexican Council for International Relations, a Mexican think-tank, helping with membership and events.

When her father retired as an ambassador and went back to Mexico City, she began to visit home regularly and started helping Mexico Rugby and pushing for women to play. During this time, the Mexico Rugby Union was applying to become a member of the International Rugby Board (now the World Rugby Council). She was able to lend a helping hand bringing some of the knowledge she acquired during her tenure on the rugby boards of the NRU, Ontario and Canada.

“In 2018, World Rugby Council invited women to join the Council for the first time, and I was elected as Regional Representative from Rugby Americas North. I voiced my concerns on governance best practices on the Council and was asked to join the Governance Work Group, along with some of my colleagues on Council, and Chaired by Sir Hugh Robertson KCMG PC DL. This work was instrumental in placing women on the executive committee and other committees. The Governance Work Group met virtually throughout the pandemic and made important changes in diversity and gender equality. These women, chosen from all over the world have had to work very hard and against all odds to be considered and elected to sit on Council. They have amazing skills and expertise and now they have a voice to influence decisions. The Governance Group brought forward changes to the Executive Committee and now it will move from 7 members, all men, to 12 members, with a mandate that at least 3 have to be female. This is a fair representation of our female rugby membership, 1/4 of all stakeholders. We currently have two of the three women in place and by the 2024 elections the Executive Committee will have the full complement of women.”

Cristina says it is gratifying to make changes that benefit the game and its leadership. “Diversifying isn’t good for just women – it’s a big step forward for rugby overall and for the very different regions of the world who play.”

Fresh off of the Rugby World Cup in France in September-October 2023, she’s energized by the games, the general assembly and committee meetings. She chaired the Finance Committee (one of only three women chairing committees) until it merged with the Audit and Risk Committee where she sits now, as well as the Regional Committee. “We agreed to a new calendar of games, better sponsorships and an evolution of event planning. It was amazing to see representatives from almost all 130 countries globally come together at the General Assembly to tackle issues and share new ideas. The women had a chance to get together to plan for better communication between us and sharing of resources.”

“Women are doing really well in world rugby right now – the women’s game is attracting incredible sponsors. The final at the Women’s World Cup in 2022 was watched by 42,579 fans. And an attendance record was broken with 58,498 spectators at Twickenham for the Women’s Six Nations Championship in spring 2023, as it followed a new format having of afternoon games to make it a family event. We have a goal to make it even bigger!”

Not one to shy away from a challenge, and having been recently elected to another four years on the World Rugby Council, Cristina will no doubt meet that goal.

“I love rugby because it’s an aggressive game yet very disciplined and collegiate. That fits my personality. Rugby culture and the people in it are amazing. In Spanish and French, we call the after-game time the third period, because it’s when you’re at the clubhouse talking to colleagues and competitors and celebrating one another with no animosity. It’s a special culture which embodies team spirit, respect and fun, and is perfectly aligned with the principles of diversity and inclusion.  I’m very happy to dedicate my time and energy to it - and to bring more women to the sport.”