Asia Rugby drives record-breaking year for rugby’s global growth
- 6 million players globally, including a 28 per cent rise in registered female players
- 33 per cent increase in participation in Asia since 2017
- More than 2.2 million girls and boys participated in Get Into Rugby in 2018 – 42 per cent from Asia region
- Impact Beyond Project Asia 1 Million reaches target nine months ahead of schedule as game-changing Rugby World Cup 2019 nears
- 800 million-strong global fan base driven by youth audiences in emerging markets like China and India
A record number of people are playing rugby worldwide as the sport continues to grow and prosper in Asia and across the globe, according to the World Rugby Year in Review 2018.
The sport’s unprecedented growth continued in 2018 with 9.6 million men, women and children playing the game around the world. This includes 2.7 million women, up 10 per cent on the previous year and accounting for more than a quarter of the total global playing population. Asia alone saw a massive 33 per cent increase in participation numbers with 1,018,336 playing rugby in 2018.
This growth was driven by World Rugby’s development programme Get Into Rugby, which acts as a gateway for young people to try, play and stay in rugby. For the second consecutive year more than two million girls and boys (2,280,200 with 40 per cent female participation) took part, with Asia outperforming all other regions to account for 42 per cent of the total global figure. Five of the six top Get Into Rugby nations were in Asia, with India, Japan, UAE, Pakistan and China leading the way. Get Into Rugby’s success as a crucial development pathway was particularly evident at the Asia Rugby U18 girls’ tournament in India, where 118 of the 132 participants had come through the programme to represent their country at age-grade level.
The success of Get Into Rugby also saw Asia Rugby reach its Impact Beyond legacy programme goal of one million new participants nine months before Japan is due to host Rugby World Cup 2019, setting the stage for a game-changing tournament. Project Asia 1 Million is a central pillar of World Rugby’s mission to grow the game locally and ensure Japan 2019 – the first Rugby World Cup to be hosted in Asia – is the most impactful Rugby World Cup to date.
Excitingly the total number of registered female players globally grew by an impressive 28 per cent to 581,000 across all World Rugby member unions. This comes during the first full year of implementation of World Rugby’s ambitious plan, Accelerating the global development of women in rugby 2017-25, which aims to support the growth and development of the women’s game and promote parity.
That success was matched off the field by increased engagement levels from female fans – 38 per cent increase in video views by women and the growth of the World Rugby and Rugby World Cup female audience on Twitter to more than 30 per cent. It was also reflected in increased diversity at the highest levels of the game in a year when World Rugby added 17 new female members to its Council and New Zealand was named as first-time hosts of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021.
World Rugby was also pleased to welcome Lebanon as one of its newest associate member unions in 2018. Other highlights from around the world in 2018 included the second Youth Olympic Games rugby sevens tournament in Buenos Aires, won by Argentina (men’s) and New Zealand (women’s). Meanwhile, Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco saw 100,000 fans across three days create an incredible atmosphere inside the iconic AT&T Park, with a US broadcast audience of nine million tuning in, many watching rugby for the first time.
This helped drive even greater interest in the sport, which now boasts a global fan base of 800 million worldwide, driven by young people consuming sevens digital content in emerging markets. China tops the table, alongside USA, with 33 million fans, while India boasts 25 million and Japan rounds off the top eight countries with 14 million.
Off the field, player welfare remains World Rugby’s number one priority with the international federation focusing on evidence-based injury prevention at all levels of the sport. Alongside its ongoing focus on research, World Rugby’s training and education programmes remain core to its strategy, with more than 2,700 training courses delivered worldwide in 2018.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “2018 was another special year for rugby as we watched the sport continue to prosper and grow both on and off the field. Within a total playing population of 9.6 million it was fantastic to see our Get Into Rugby programme – run in partnership with unions and regions – continue to break participation records with over two million girls and boys worldwide getting involved for the second year in a row amid a growing global fan base of 800 million.
“As Rugby World Cup 2019 fast approaches, it was particularly pleasing to see our Impact Beyond programme surpassing all expectations in Asia in 2018, reaching its target of one million new participants in the region a full nine months ahead of schedule. With the tournament expected to be game-changing in every respect, the stage is now set for the most impactful Rugby World Cup ever. I would like to thank Asia Rugby and its unions for the tremendous effort they put into growing the game across the region last year.
“From a women’s rugby perspective, 2018 was a breakthrough year as we began implementation of our groundbreaking strategy to accelerate the development of women in rugby at all levels. Progress was evident with increased participation and engagement levels as well as in the governance of the sport, where we welcomed the first women onto World Rugby Council. We will continue to strive for even greater parity in 2019.”
“The phenomenal work undertaken in Asia to increase the number of participants is reaping huge rewards, with the game now being played in its various formats in a whole variety of non-traditional locations right around the continent,” said Asia Rugby President Aga Hussain.
“We must continue to build upon the good work done so far. It is increasingly important that we make every effort to raise awareness of the game by making the widespread broadcasting of rugby games freely available across Asia so that people know what rugby is, want to stay engaged with it (whether as a participant, volunteer or fan), and players new to the game are retained.
“In order to do this we also have to ramp up our support network to service these needs.”