Give US a try: this could be rugby’s breakthrough



Give US a try: this could be rugby’s breakthrough

The game needs a new frontier if it is going to make the jump to the next level

Sports reporter
Michael Baska of the US celebrates scoring a try with teammates.
TIME TO SHINE Michael Baska of the US celebrates scoring a try with teammates.
Image: REUTERS/Donall Farmer

USA Rugby’s bid to host the 2027 or 2031 Rugby World Cup (RWC) is exactly what the sport needs in its quest to broaden its global appeal.

The federation threw its hat into the ring with a launch presentation in Washington earlier this week in which it detailed plans to stage the men’s World Cup either in 2027 or 2031, as well as the women’s tournament in 2029.

They are more likely to set their focus to host the 2031 event as Australia are firm front runners to stage the 2027 event.

The US has long been viewed as the game’s slumbering rugby giant. With the nation’s population now more than 330-million, USA Rugby has the potential of greatly increasing its 110,000-strong membership.

Their rugby heritage is strongly embedded among their clubs and colleges, while Sevens has found wide appeal. They have struggled to launch a sustainable top-tier national league, but hosting a RWC may well help capture the public’s imagination and give the game the foothold it has long craved.

A league that puts on show the best North America has to offer, as well as  attracting big name talent from elsewhere in the world, will also help bring balance in the spread of the sport’s foremost talent.

The game needs a new frontier if it is going to make the jump to the next level, and hosting the RWC in the US may kick-start that process.

A wider rugby footprint in North America will likely unlock greater commercial value, more revenue streams, while the game also stands to benefit from the technological advances that continent has to offer.

As a long-time hotbed for professional sport, the continent can help fully disentangle rugby from the amateur roots that continue to shackle it.

Rugby of course has a long way to go to be even mentioned in the same breath as American football, baseball and basketball, which are woven thick into American society.

Sceptics will also point to the limited impact their staging of the 1994 Fifa World Cup had for soccer in that country.

That world cup, however, was a commercial success, which is an imperative World Rugby will very much have in its crosshairs if they are to award the global rugby spectacle to the US.

They will, however, have to adopt a mildly altruistic approach if they are to grow the game and give it a wider footprint.

Rugby does not enjoy the global appeal of soccer and has to use its showpiece events to attract eyeballs. It has 108 member unions and 20 associate members. Fifa has about 200 affiliates.

Not that World Rugby needs much convincing that they need to break from the established order.

In awarding the 2019 RWC to Japan, they for the first time bestowed hosting rights on a country outside of Europe, SA, New Zealand and Australia. Despite pitfalls that involved vast travel distances, a typhoon and a tremor or two, the 2019 RWC proved a commercial success and the game stirred an already enthused local population.

Japan is still hoping to ride that wave of enthusiasm with the launch of its Japan Rugby League One, replacing the old Top League which attracted many of the sport’s most recognisable names.

The US can be set on a similar trajectory and rugby in the long run will be better for it.