Although the game’s governing body, World Rugby (formerly the International Rugby Board) has attempted to grow the game over the past 25 to 30 years since the inception of the Rugby World Cup in 1987. Yet despite this there are still only about six or seven countries that could realistically win the World Cup (maybe nine or ten at a stretch). Similarly, there are 20 teams that are to take part in Rugby World Cup 2015, of which only the top 12 are countries with an established rugby culture. This article will outline 5 effective ways in which the game can truly grow on a global level.
1. The Olympic Games and Sevens
Sevens is a great way for the game to develop because it allows smaller groups of players to begin forming clubs and start playing in areas where rugby struggles to get a foothold. Furthermore it is a platform where size matters less and speed and guile are more important, which is even more crucial, where the “Give it to the big guy” syndrome can be seen very often.
By having successfully having campaigned to have 7’s rugby included in the Olympic Games, countries that emphasize the importance of these global games, such as the USA, Russia, China and even Great Britain, will begin to increase the budgets for the sport, which can only benefit the game in general.
2. Cultural Exchanges
What is a better way to learn the game than to experience it first hand as it is meant to be experienced. This means taking young people, especially students and exposing them to rugby in an environment where rugby dominates and is not seen as a sideline sport.
A good example of this would be an American college student, who shows rugby potential, to go on an exchange for 6-12 months to a place where rugby is the dominant sport, such as South Africa, New Zealand or Wales and experience first hand what the game should be like.
A simple solution for this is to require the top ten nations on the World Rugby rankings to make available 20-30 full scholarships a year to college or university students to students in countries ranked 11-30. Once these students return to their home countries they will have experienced rugby first hand and should be required to put back into the game domestically by offering more specialised coaching or even workshops that will serve to grow the game back home.
3. The Role of Older/Retired Players
The fight of rugby to gain more widespread popularity is similar to the struggle of Football (Soccer) to gain traction in the USA, but a tactic that seems to have been quite effective is the use of your more experienced players that still have something to give back.
Today we have many players spending the twilight of their careers in Japan once they have retired from international rugby (eg. Shane Williams, Jaque Fourie, etc), but what the game needs is these players diversifying their destinations and giving up some of the big money opportunities in exchange for growing the game. Imagine the kind of interest that a rugby game containing Richie McCaw, Victor Matfield and Digby Ioane would create if it were hosted in a country like Germany (currently ranked 22nd in the world and having narrowly missed out on RWC2015 qualification). Every single rugby fan in that country would flock to the game and bring one or two mates with to the game, who will become so engrossed in the star studded game, that the game will grow. While the money that the players can earn in this format will be less than in Japan, rugby would benefit.
4. Social responsibility programs
Everyone who reads this blog knows about the benefits of rugby, played at any age, it teaches you the value of hard work, commitment, respect, team work, the importance of staying healthy,etc. In any country there are certain aspects of society that remedy, drug problems, juvenile detention centres and any other collection of problems can be solved by a good rugby program. Just as in the movie, Gridiron Gang, where Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson shapes a bunch of young misfits through implementing a gridiron program, so too rugby can be used to remedy of the societal issues that any country struggles with today.
5. Emphasize the glory of Rugby
In the world today, footballers are seen as warriors, yet they go down injured if the wind is too strong from a certain direction or another player comes within a meter of them.
Rugby players deserve far more respect for their physical feats than footballers do. Imagine the kind of impact that rugby could have in an area such as America’s mid-west, where the conservative Republican dogma, grips the people to defend their base rights of hunting, gun ownership and Nascar. If these people were exposed properly to the physical challenge of rugby, I do not doubt that interest in the sport would increase
While this last point is by no means a one size fits all solution, it can serve to give a place to call home for men, who want to be men and test themselves against the best.
The aim of this article is highlight some of the other options that are out there that are a little less mainstream compared to your normal ideas of expanding super rugby to include a Puma team and a Japanese team, or to play select internationals in exotic locations, as the All Blacks and Wallabies have done.
Drop a comment and let me know what you think.
I am a 24 year old player and fan living in Cape Town, South Africa and I have played rugby since I was 9. Preferred position: Loosehead prop (but I also have a Masters Degree, that gives new meaning to the term Brains Trust ;))