The approval of the plan by the IRB Council follows an extensive strategic review of the Women's Rugby World Cup by tournament owners Rugby World Cup Limited.
Key review considerations included tournament timing within the international Women's rugby calendar, the tournament delivery model, tournament format and the global qualification criteria with the objective of further boosting competition standards, global profile and fan engagement.
The following recommendations were agreed by the Council:
• The Women's Rugby World Cup to move to every four years from 2017 to optimise the international competition calendar and enable the world's top players to compete in the pinnacle fifteen-a-side and Sevens events
• The Women's Rugby World Cup to be capped at 12 teams to ensure the highest competition standards
• The global qualification process to be streamlined to ensure the participation of the world's best teams on the world's biggest stage
The announcement comes at an exciting time for the sport with Women's rugby enjoying unprecedented growth and profile, the Women's Rugby World Cup set for a record-breaking France 2014 event, the IRB Women's Sevens Series going from strength to strength and Women's Sevens set to debut at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
RWCL Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "Women's rugby is one of the world's fastest growing team sports with an unprecedented 1.5 million women and girls participating across every continent.
"At the forefront of the phenomenal growth are our flagship Women's fifteen-a-side and Sevens events and we are committed to ensuring that the Women's Rugby World Cup is cemented as one of the prestige properties in women's sport."
Details of the qualification process and tender process for the 2017 and 2021 Women's Rugby World Cup tournaments will be announced in due course.
IRB Rugby Committee member Cheryl Soon added: "The Women's Rugby World Cup is a fantastic event and today's announcement is great news for the game.
"It's a long-term commitment to the Women's game, which is growing at a record speed. To enhance that, we need to support the development of the game and get the schedule right.
"This will allow the top players compete in the Olympics, the Women's Rugby World Cup and then the Rugby World Cup Sevens, if they choose to. The top players can take part in the top events."
Meanwhile, excitement is building as teams get set for the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup in Paris this August.
The action gets underway at FFR headquarters in Marcoussis, Paris on August 1, with the other pool games played there on August 5 and 9. The semi-finals and finals will be played at Stade Jean Bouin on August 13 and 17 respectively.
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