Why 2019 World Cup was a game-changer for Asian rugby


Rugby World Cup 2019 may be remembered by most for what happened on the field, but it’s the events off it that have really made it the most impactful in the tournament’s history – and that’s not hyperbole.

The tournament is already the biggest ever Rugby World Cup in terms of sporting, social and financial impact – generating a record £4.3 billion in economic output, as outlined in a recent report by EY.

Japan 2019, the first RWC in Asia, has proved to be a real game-changer for the sport across the world’s most populous continent. In new data revealed in World Rugby’s Year in Review 2019, the tournament has inspired 2.25 million new rugby participants in Asia, including 1.18 million in Japan alone. World Rugby Chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont, described this as “perhaps the most important ‘try’ of the tournament”.

As well as the Brave Blossoms’ outstanding performances at RWC 2019, both World Rugby’s Get Into Rugby and Impact Beyond programmes are responsible for inspiring this new generation of rugby fanatics in Japan and beyond to help create a lasting legacy for the tournament.

World Rugby’s Get Into Rugby programme was created with one goal in mind: to encourage players of all ages from across the globe to try, play and stay in rugby. Active in 2,010 locations, the programme partners with regional associations and unions worldwide to deliver rugby in a safe, enjoyable and progressive way.

Of Get Into Rugby’s 2.1 million global participants throughout 2019, 45 per cent were based in Asia. Five of the top 10 countries in terms of participation numbers are in Asia, in India, Japan, UAE, Pakistan and China. These results are not only the culmination of RWC 2019, but also the incredible groundwork put in by Get Into Rugby – and Impact Beyond – in the years building up to the tournament.

Encouraging new rugby participants to stay in the sport is one of Get Into Rugby’s main focuses. This is why the fact that the programme’s graduates are representing their countries in international age-grade rugby at an ever-increasing rate is hugely encouraging for Get Into Rugby. And the growth in one age group in particular – U18 girls – is showing the greatest promise.

During the most recent RWC cycle – the four years between England 2015 and Japan 2019 – the number of national U18 girls’ sides in Asia increased by 50 per cent. Ninety per cent of those players honed their skills through the Get Into Rugby programme.

And the impact stretches beyond Asia. Two current members of the Fijiana sevens team came through Get Into Rugby. The same can be said for two Vanuatu players representing their country at the Oceania Rugby Women’s Sevens Championship 2019 – the Pacific island nation’s first-ever appearance at the tournament. A third of the 18 players in the Kenya Lionesses squad in the last three years came through Get Into Rugby.

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While many Get Into Rugby graduates entered the international arena in 2019, the year also saw various nations continue to make progress on their own journey through the programme. We saw the first inter-school rugby festival in St Lucia; the Solomon Islands hosted their first-ever Get Into Rugby tag festival, which over 200 children attended; and Get Into Rugby was introduced to the school curriculum in Afghanistan.

Together with Get Into Rugby, the Impact Beyond programme is a central pillar in World Rugby’s mission to grow the game globally, running alongside major World Rugby events, such as and most notably Rugby World Cup, and the Olympic Games to inspire and engage future generations.

In the build up to and during RWC 2019, Impact Beyond’s chief aim was to convert the rugby potential within Japan and Asia. World Rugby’s Impact Beyond report reveals that, in Japan alone, more than 769,000 schoolchildren have been introduced to tag rugby in over 6,000 elementary schools thanks to the work of the programme.

The programme’s influence has not only been felt in Japan – in total 22 Asian rugby unions were involved in Impact Beyond in the build up to RWC 2019. As many as 237,000 players in Pakistan, 180,000 in China, 106,000 in India, as well as many, many others in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, are experiencing rugby for the first time. In further progress still, 43.1 per cent of Asia’s new rugby participants are girls and women.

Impact Beyond initiatives such as the 19-country stop RWC 2019 Trophy Tour, an exchange project bringing young players from across Asia to experience the thrill of RWC 2019 firsthand, and RWC 2019 partners, such as Land Rover, delivering youth participation days alongside legends like Jonny Wilkinson and Bryan Habana, have all played a role in driving such encouraging growth.

Rugby is a sport which prides itself on character-building values, and, as part of the Impact Beyond 2019 programme, more than £2 million was pledged in a fantastic show of solidarity from the global rugby family to support ChildFund Pass It Back, the principal RWC 2019 charity partner. Funds raised are transforming the lives of more than 25,000 vulnerable children in disadvantaged communities across Asia through an integrated life skills and rugby curriculum.

Both Impact Beyond and Get Into Rugby have and will continue to play a crucial role in growing rugby globally and broadening the game’s diversity across gender, ethnicity, age, and social backgrounds. With the Olympic Games in Tokyo on the horizon, the opportunity to further increase awareness and excitement for rugby in Japan and around the world has never been greater.

Story Courtesy/World Rugby

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