While there are certainly a few countries where Rugby is popular, there are certainly a few things holding the sport back from being even more popular.
Why isn’t rugby more popular? Rugby can be difficult to play and it struggled to establish itself in the 20th century, due to the focus on amateurism. In recent years, safety concerns and a lack of role models has seen the sport decline in popularity.
There are quite a few reasons why rugby is not quite as popular as other sports, particularly when you compare it to the sport that it developed from. Rugby was invented as a version of football and yet football is much more popular around the world than rugby and this is for a few key reasons.
1.Focus on Amateurism
Rugby Football and Football were actually around the same in terms of popularity in the 1860s and 1870s, when Rugby was first developing as a game. The issue that the sport has faced is that in the 20th century, Rugby continued to focus on amateurism and fewer clubs looked at the commercial side.
Instead, football took the more commercial route and this meant that rugby struggled to keep up. It wasn’t until 1995 that the sport became completely professional, allowing players to be paid full-time to play. This meant that the game has always struggled to commercialise itself and it is why there are much fewer professional clubs than in football.
2. Governing bodies failing to expand the game
When the sport was supposed to be becoming worldwide, the governing bodies around rugby maintained a very UK-focused view on the sport and were not particularly keen to expand the sport outside of the UK. It meant that it took until 1948 for New Zealand, South Africa and Australia to be invited to the International Rugby Football Board.
Even when these countries joined, they did not have as much say as countries from the UK. This has meant that Rugby really has not made a dent into countries where the sport could have been incredibly popular. It is part of the reason why rugby is trying its best to expand into the US market, as it will never be as global as football is today.
Part of failing to expand into other countries is also to do with the governing bodies ignoring teams when they were performing well. Romania was actually very good at rugby through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. They had wins against France, Scotland, Wales and drew with Ireland.
But the nation was given very little support for its rugby programs and after Communism collapsed, Romanian rugby did not get a massive amount of support which hurt the nation’s prospects. This has gotten a lot better since the start of the 21st century, particularly with the rise of countries like Japan, Argentina and the USA becoming more competitive and getting more involved with rugby.
3. Difficult to play and organise
When you just look at how rugby is played, it can be very difficult to set up and organise a game. Rugby requires pretty soft pitches and there really cannot be a lot of bumps or cuts in the ground because it can easily injure a player. The hard hits need a soft ground for players to land on and this is not always the case.
In terms of a full rugby game, there is also a lot that needs to be set up for this to take place. The pitch needs to be completely outlined as well as posts and corner flags. It is much more difficult for youngsters to play a game of rugby, whereas setting up a game of football or cricket can be a lot easier.
These barriers to entry lead into another issue that the sport has and one that it is desperately trying to shake off.
4. Reputation as a rich person game
Particularly in the UK, Rugby has a reputation for being a game only for the wealthy. This is partly because it can be very expensive to play rugby and therefore opportunities to play are not always open to everyone. It means that the sport has always struggled to get the masses to participate.
While there are more opportunities to play rugby now, the reputation still remains, particularly as most of the superstars of today’s game went to a Private School and Rugby is often not as emphasised at public schools, particularly those with limited facilities for the sport.
This reputation is not worldwide and there are countries like New Zealand and the Pacific Islands where rugby is the most popular sport in those countries and so does not have as bad of a reputation.
5. Injury Concerns
Rugby is an incredibly physical game. Players will take multiple big hits every game and it can be incredibly physical, particularly if you are one of the forwards. Rugby players often love the physicality and you can’t really play the sport if you’re afraid of that physicality. But it does bring some issues.
Rugby players tend to be able to injure pretty much anything. It is incredibly rare for a rugby player to go through a career without a serious injury. When parents see this, it means they don’t want their children to play the game. This decreases participation numbers and also eventually leads to fewer people watching the sport.
The large group of former players who are coming out with long-term issues like CTE and dementia is incredibly worrying for the sport and it is why rugby is trying to make big changes. But those concerns around safety put people off watching and playing the sport.
6. Not taking advantage of personalities
With Rugby being such a traditional team sport, it is very rare that we see players become superstars. You don’t really see superstar players getting a huge amount of coverage because the game is traditionally a team sport. This means that fans can’t develop that admiration that has seen the popularity of F1 increase massively.
Rugby needs to take advantage of players’ personalities and give fans more role models as that helps to grow the game.