Planet rugby is on the rise
By David Goodman
LONDON (Reuters) - The world's fastest-growing sport. That status is claimed by many, but rugby union has a genuine shot at the title on the back of a record-breaking Rugby World Cup.
As the tournament approaches its climax, having smashed attendance and TV audience records despite host nation England's early exit, the sport aims to build on growth from Asia to Europe and the Americas.
Data collected by governing body World Rugby shows that player numbers climbed to more than 8 million last year from 5.48 million in 2012.
"We're going into new countries all the time, huge new programs in countries like Mexico and India, and we're going into Mongolia and Asia," World Rugby's head of competitions and performance, Mark Egan, told Reuters.
"It's all about getting in there on the ground, going into schools, educating parents about our sport, the strong values our sport has. It's a very powerful message."
The emergence of Italian rugby offers a vivid illustration of the game making its mark outside established strongholds.
For decades rugby in Italy was very much a niche sport, but since it joined Europe's Six Nations championship in 2000 the number of registered players and coaches has climbed to 110,000 from 25,000, the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) says.
Aided by the increased media exposure, FIR revenue has increased tenfold to 40 million euros-plus ($45 million) since 2000, making it one of Italy's wealthiest sporting federations. Continued...