The second-biggest continent will have only South Africa and Namibia at this year’s Rugby World Cup. But Rugby Africa president Khaled Babbou will not fight for more slots; his eye is on the future.
For the first time in its history, the Rugby World Cup will not be hosted in one of the game’s traditional centres of power. England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have all been entrusted with rugby’s past showpieces, but in September Japan will become the first Asian country to host the tournament.
It’s a move that reveals World Rugby’s desire to diversify, and no doubt leverage its commercial muscle by taking the game to parts of the world it has ignored for too long.
These are early days filled with promise in rugby’s new realignment, but there is at least a move in the right direction. The sport has increased its global fan base by 24% since 2013, mainly as a result of significant growth in Asia, North and South America, and Africa. Rugby’s popularity mirrors the growth of cricket around the world; rugby supporters are getting younger and the game is attracting more female fans, while the shortened format – Sevens Rugby – has been a key pillar supporting the game’s expansion.
This article was initially published at newframe