Report shows 19% growth in rugby since 2007

  • Global participation increase of 19% since Rugby World Cup 2007
  • Olympic Effect being felt throughout the global Rugby family 
  • IRB investment and hosting strategies driving factors


The International Rugby Board has welcomed the findings of a major new study which highlights strong growth in Rugby participation since Rugby World Cup 2007, particularly across emerging Rugby markets.

Published by the Centre for the International Business of Sport (CIBS) on behalf of MasterCard, The Economic Impact Report on Global Rugby: Strategic and Emerging Marketis the most comprehensive study of its kind and finds that global participation has increased by 19% since the last Rugby World Cup in France. 

The report details that in comparison to 2007 figures, emerging nations across the globe are accelerating in numbers of participants with growth increasing by 18% in Asia alone. 


In Africa and South America significant increases of 33% and 22% respectively have occurred. While participation figures are highest in Europe, non-traditional Rugby playing nations in Eastern Europe have also emerged, contributing to the 22% increase seen across the continent as a whole. 

The study shows that these unprecedented levels of growth can be attributed to three main factors: 


  • Rugby Sevens' inclusion in the Olympic Games programme from 2016.
  • Event hosting strategies often with linked legacy programmes. The diffusion of Rugby via the hosting of major events is a clear strategy for some countries. The IRB legacy programme involves participating teams in tournaments in development work with local children, often in deprived areas, many of whom would otherwise have had no exposure to Rugby.
  • IRB programmes and investment: GBP153 million (US$248 million) is being invested from 2009 to 2012, an increase of 20% over the previous funding cycle. This is made possible due to the commercial success of Rugby World Cup.


IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "These are extremely exciting times for Rugby with strong growth and participation worldwide. This report, commissioned by MasterCard, underlines that growth is not just continuing, but is accelerating and is as prominent in emerging Rugby markets as traditional Rugby countries." 

"The IRB is committed to the development of the Game through a strong programme of investment, coaching and education funded through the commercial success of Rugby World Cup. We are dedicated to ensuring that more men, women and children can enjoy a sport that brings people together through values of integrity, respect and solidarity." 

"This report also underscores the positive effect of the IRB's investment, development and hosting strategies working in collaboration with our Regional Associations and Member Unions. Between 2009 and 2012 the IRB alone will have invested £153 million in the development of the global Game aimed at increasing global playing standards." 

"We are also noticing the boost that Olympic Games inclusion has given Rugby and we are excited by the opportunities that are now being presented to our Member Unions through National Olympic Committees as we count down to Rio 2016. We are working in partnership with the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic family to ensure that Rugby Sevens' Olympic debut is both memorable and successful." 

The study continues by showing that while the 10 top playing nations in terms of participation in 2008 were the Six Nations and SANZAR sides plus Argentina, this picture is changing, with Japan, Sri Lanka and the USA all featuring in the top 10 for 2010. 

Japan was the top Asian market ranked sixth with 122,598 registered players ahead of Sri Lanka (103,325), Argentina (103,000), Australia (86,952) and the USA (81,678). England (2,549,196), South Africa (632,184), France (273,084), Ireland (153,080) and New Zealand (137,835) topped the table for 2010 participation. 

Participation in Africa is being driven by a surge in young recruits - more than 80% of the continent's players are under 20 years old. The report attributes the growth of Rugby in Africa to the high profile of Rugby Sevens, particularly following the success of Kenya, and new development initiatives funded through the IRB's Strategic Investment Programme. 

The report also suggests that Rugby is penetrating untapped Asian markets too, including Pakistan, where participation quadrupled over the past two years with an increase of 250% in the last year alone, and Iran, where the sport is now played in 15 out of 30 provinces and where Women's Rugby thrives. 

The report also shows that Rugby is increasing its footprint within the USA, where a 350% participation increase has been experienced since 2004. The growth also underlines the findings of another independent report that outlined Rugby as the third fastest growing sport in the country. 

Growing interest in the USA is also reflected by securing the first ever network broadcast deals for Rugby in the country with the USA leg of the 2010/11 HSBC Sevens World Series broadcast live on NBC Universal and Rugby World Cup 2011 and Rugby World Cup 2015 set to enjoy an extensive platform with the same network.