The landmark decision, taken by the Rugby World Cup board earlier this year, reflects the growing popularity of the women’s game globally through World Rugby’s transformational women’s strategic plan.
With interest and participation in the women's game continuing to climb, World Rugby has recognised that the increasing competitiveness in women’s international rugby.
This, in turn, has led to the World Cup being expanded, providing the opportunity for more teams to prove themselves on the biggest stage.
Women’s rugby has experienced record growth in recent years, with women and girls now accounting for 28% of the global playing population, stated World Rugby.
Interest in Rugby World Cup hosting continues to grow ahead of the formal process beginning in February 2021.
New Zealand is set to host the Rugby World Cup in 2021. The Black Ferns are the defending champions.
World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said women’s rugby was the single greatest opportunity to grow the sport globally.
He said increasing the tournament to 16 teams was a “milestone moment’’.
Beaumont said that in 2017 World Rugby set out an 8-year plan to accelerate the development of women in the sport.
It focused on high-performance competition and an ambition to improve and expand the number of teams competing in pinnacle events.
“We have seen in recent years that more teams are making a statement at international level and unions are continuing to develop their women’s high-performance programmes,'’ Beaumont said in a statement.
“This is a milestone moment for the women’s game, expansion of the Rugby World Cup opens additional aspirational and inspirational playing pathway opportunities for unions at the highest level of the game and creates added incentive for unions worldwide to continue to invest and grow in their women’s programmes.”