People think that rugby expansion is based solely on making money, but the International Rugby Board (IRB) has released worldwide rugby playing numbers which make for interesting reading and explain why the All Blacks are playing in USA and why Super Rugby is moving into South America.
Statistics released by the IRB show that there are nearly 2.36 million registered, 4.3 non-registered and 1.5 million female players worldwide. Some countries have people who play socially, but aren’t registered, while other countries don’t have that so much.
People don’t realise that the countries with the most players are England with over two million players, while the USA has over 1.4 million rugby players. Both of these countries have strong connections between education and sport, with rugby played in schools and colleges. Chicago where the All Blacks will play USA, has tens of thousands of rugby players.
Those fans who think that the Pacific Islands should host an All Blacks test may need to look at these statistics with Fiji having more rugby players than New Zealand. Both have around 150,000 players. There are only 38,000 players in Samoa and 8,000 in Tonga, so these player numbers hardly make for a compelling following.
Argentina is now in the Rugby Championship and there will be a Super Rugby franchise in a few years. Argentina is home to nearly 130,000 rugby players. This is only slightly less than the number of players in New Zealand.
Rugby is growing in South America with nearly 200,000 players while there are seven percent of the world’s population in this continent.
President of the Federation of Ecuador Rugby Nicolas Napoli says that playing numbers are growing in Ecuador. Rugby has only been in Ecuador for six years and there are 450 adult players. There are ten club teams nationwide, but this is expanding thanks to increased government support, media attention and seeing rugby on television.
Oceania including New Zealand and Australia makes up only 13 percent of the rugby playing population and 0.7 percent of the world’s population, so there are plenty more reasons to expand into other continents like Asia, North and South America.