* Independent Media continues to unpack and analyse South Africa’s 2023 Rugby World Cup Bid.
Nearly two million girls and boys globally participated in World Rugby’s “Get into Rugby” programme, with 382 500 coming out of Africa.
World Rugby’s 2016 statistics show that 8.5 million men, women and children now play the game throughout the world, and Africa’s numbers total 771 459.
The game has long ceased to be the exclusive domain of men and boys.
World Rugby’s data revealed that women and girls account for more than a quarter of all global players and 39 percent of the Get into Rugby participants in 2016 were female.
Nearly two million girls and boys from 129 nations were actively involved in the Get into Rugby programme, which was double the figure of 2015.
This is a direct result of the massive influence of the 2015 World Cup in England and rugby’s reintroduction into the Summer Olympics in 2016.
World Rugby’s vision includes the sport being accessible to the entire family and there is an emphasis globally on ensuring there is sustained participation when boys and girls leave school.
The window to the sport may be through the elite professional teams but the fabric of the sport is in mass participation.
And Africa is leading the way in terms of this growth.
“It is huge for us that Africa has shown the greatest development of the game through the Get into Rugby programme,” says Rugby Africa chairman Abdelaziz Bougja.
“It’s a credit to World Rugby’s vision and also the dedication of those operational regional development officers and high level of administration within Africa, who have collaborated extensively with World Rugby in order to ensure the programme’s success.
“We have always been confident that Africa has massive skills potential, which is just as important as growing the number of players involved in the game,” Bougja explained.
Rugby Africa celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016 with a detailed five-year strategic plan for the continent, with wide-ranging training courses that will enable union to autonomously deliver Get into Rugby programmes.
The popularity of Sevens has also helped with the increased numbers playing 15-a-side, and Bougja said the presence of rugby at the 2016 Rio Olympics gave additional impetus to the dramatic increase in playing numbers across the continent.
Sevens is the gateway to the sport because emerging African teams can be competitive and victorious.
Kenya is now recognised as a top-tier Sevens team and their players are among the most popular in World Rugby’s international Sevens series.
The scope of rugby in Africa is enormous and the hosting of the 2023 World Cup on the African continent would naturally further fast-track what is already acknowledged and described as the sport’s most rapid growth area.
South Africa’s SuperSport, the giant of international rugby broadcasting, has in recent years also extended its reach and footprint to include many countries in Africa.
This has also raised the profile of the sport, with supporters and new converts of the game exposed to the very best global competitions that showcase the sport’s most talented players.
Soccer will always have the global monopoly in niche sports but rugby is also recognised as having mass global sporting appeal, with the game’s international controlling body now made up of 103 full members and 18 associate members.
The game’s worldwide fan base in 2016 increased to 300 million and this greater interest has also translated into greater participation in the sport with 10 new countries adopting the Get into Rugby programme, among them Africa’s Morocco and Ethiopia.
* Mark Keohane is an award-winning rugby writer and former Springbok communications manager. Follow him on www.keo.co.za and @mark_keohane on Twitter