World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont believes that 2019 will be a “game-changing” year for rugby as he looks ahead to another massive year with Rugby World Cup 2019 as its centerpiece.
All roads lead to Asia’s first Rugby World Cup and Beaumont believes that solid foundations were put in place in a busy 2018 to convert the opportunity of hosting in the world’s most populous and youthful continent.
The year saw record participation and fan-base growth as the sport continued to break new markets, while Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco captured hearts and minds in the USA and beyond as sevens continued to inspire.
It was also a year of solid progress off the field as Beaumont, who received a knighthood in HM The Queen’s New Year honors, continued to drive key governance and regulatory reform as well as significant player welfare advances that will benefit players at all levels of the game.
He said: “With Rugby World Cup as the centerpiece, 2019 is the perfect stage to showcase to the world an attractive, thriving sport that continues to grow in every region and attract new participants and fans.
“Rugby is all about teamwork and, working in partnership with our regions and unions, 2018 brought yet more important advances that will enable us to convert the excitement and interest in Asia’s first Rugby World Cup – a game-changing event – into sustainable growth for the sport.
“We are well on our way. There has been strong progress in Asia, where more than one million new participants have been attracted to the sport via our Impact Beyond 2019 legacy program. We are now working hard with Asia Rugby and our unions to ensure that this phenomenal achievement is sustainable and that the structures are in place to support and further grow the game in the world’s most populous and youthful region.
“With Asia to the fore, we have seen record participation with more than 9.2 million players worldwide, as rugby ignites new passions in new countries and communities, as well as continued growth in existing traditional rugby nations.
“Our mass participation Get Into Rugby program, supplemented our Rugby Ready, Activate and X Rugby programs, has been instrumental, attracting more than 2.1 million youth participants throughout the year, strengthening the grassroots game."
Beaumont also believes that the sport is rightly focusing on evolving and innovating to ensure that rugby is attractive, relevant and accessible to younger and new audiences, despite unprecedented entertainment choice.
“As a father of three rugby-playing sons, a fan of the sport and Chairman of World Rugby, I am committed to building a stronger, simpler, more attractive and accessible game for all, with strong values at its core”, he said.
“Although there is unprecedented competition for audience attention, 2018 saw rugby’s global fanbase continue to expand, and now totals 338 million across the world driven by the sevens audience revolution in the likes of India, Brazil and the USA.
“Sevens continues to go from strength to strength and more than 100,000 fans attended Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 at the iconic AT&T Park in San Francisco, a further nine million tuned in for NBC’s coverage of the tournament, a record rugby TV audience in the USA, demonstrating the huge potential and appetite in the USA."
Driven by the commercial strength of Rugby World Cup, World Rugby is committed to investing in the development of the sport worldwide. This commitment continues in line with targets and an overall program of £482 million is anticipated to be invested between 2016 and 2019, eclipsing the record for the previous four-year cycle by 38 per cent, reflecting a commitment to supporting sustainable growth.
This will support development and high-performance programs that will underpin the performance of many of the emerging teams competing at Rugby World Cup 2019, while enabling World Rugby, its regions and unions to continue delivering governance initiatives, world-class training and education programs to sustain participation growth, and further enhance player welfare.
Beaumont added: “We deeply care about the welfare of our players and having achieved solid foundations in injury management, which in general terms means that injury rates are not increasing, we are focused on injury prevention. We are resolute in this commitment and are leaving no stone unturned in our evidence-based approach as reflected by our drive to lower the acceptable tackle height.
“As a sport, we have made excellent player welfare progress over the year, particularly in the priority area of concussion, but we must ensure that rugby continues to be a leader in sport in the prevention and management of injury – we are determined to showcase player welfare best-practice at Rugby World Cup 2019.”
“Off the field, we welcomed Fiji and Samoa to our Council in November, which is a reflection of the excellent contribution the Pacific Islands unions make to the global game. Our landmark women’s strategic plan has taken major strides in accelerating the development of women in rugby. Major governance reform saw our Council expand from 32 to 49 members with the new roles taken by women.
“I would like to thank the global rugby family – players, fans, coaches, referees, administrators and volunteers – for their passion, commitment and the significant role they have played in making 2018 such a special, memorable and successful year.”
The New Year will bring new opportunities and challenges, but Beaumont is confident that the sport is perfectly placed to capitalise on new growth, particularly in Asia.
Looking ahead, Beaumont continued: “I am very excited about 2019, which will be a game-changing year for the sport. Anticipation and excitement is growing in Japan and around the world ahead of what promises to be a very special Rugby World Cup that has teams and fans at its heart.”
Beaumont’s vision for a strong, sustainable game focuses on enhancing global competition, preserving integrity by furthering the fight against doping in sport and promoting a level playing field for all through strong global education and an intelligent, targeted testing program, as well as safeguarding the sport from corruption through strong governance and leadership; and optimising commercial partnerships by unlocking the full potential of new and emerging markets.
He concluded: “All of this will be achieved by empowering and strengthening unions through continued strong investment in all levels of the games, from grassroots participation and the retention of players to strong and vibrant unions driving greater competition at test level.
“We must continue to make values-based decisions and we will work hard to ensure that the decisions that we make are for the betterment of the game at all levels across all nations. I look forward to working in partnership with the entire global rugby community in what promises to be an exciting and game-changing 2019 on and off the field.”© Rugbyworldcup.com