BrandArena: Africa’s participation increasing ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2023

Friday 1 September 2023

Africa’s participation increasing ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2023

Participation increases by 11 per cent to 8.4 million in 2023 as the sport continues to experience accelerated growth after the global pandemic; 57 per cent of players in the post-COVID-19 era are pre-teen, 24 per cent of them girls; Almost a quarter of total participants are female with a strategic focus on growth; World Rugby and Unions implement lowered tackle height in the community game; World Rugby is investing £575 million in the development of the sport between 2020-23.

World Rugby welcomes new data that confirms rugby continues to experience accelerated global growth as the sport bounces back from the pandemic while drawing inspiration from record-breaking men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups.

The 2023 figures paint a positive picture for community rugby with the sport now played by 8.46 million players across 132 national member unions, an increase of 11 per cent on 2022 levels. Emerging rugby nations and women and girls are the major drivers of new growth for the game.
  • A global game for all
  • 46 million participants – (1.5m active non-registered, 5m participants and 1.9m active registered)
  • Adult male and female active registered players grew by 26% and 38% respectively
  • 57 per cent of all players are pre-teen
  • 24 per cent of pre-teen participants are girls
  • Almost a quarter of total participants are female with a strategic focus on growth
  • The number of clubs has increased by more than 30 per cent globally
Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia are three of the six emerging nations experiencing strong growth in rugby
The 2023 figures follow a record-breaking women’s Rugby World Cup 2021 played in 2022, which smashed all previous attendance, engagement and viewership records, providing a strong platform for the game to reach and inspire the next generation of players and supporters. They also come ahead of a men’s Rugby World Cup in France that has delivered record in-market awareness and positivity ratings ahead of kick-off on 8 September.

Growth comes after a reset during the global pandemic when World Rugby worked with its member unions to support the return to play, including the implementation of Covid law variations ( and Game on Global Community Law Variations ( and lowered tackle height recommendations. In addition, World Rugby has worked with unions to further enhance accuracy of the process of defining who is currently playing the game.

A significant driver in the reduction in participation during the pandemic was the inability for casual rugby in schools and introductory Get Into Rugby (GIR) programmes to be run in many nations. GIR has traditionally engaged as many as two million participants annually, so after a complete cessation of GIR activity during COVID-19 in some unions, the game has responded strongly.

World Rugby is investing £575 million in the development of the sport between 2020-23, including support for unions and regions for the development of the game. This will be further enhanced through the provision of a greater range of services to better enable them to grow the game around the world.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “The global pandemic was the biggest societal disruption in recent times, and sport was certainly not immune. As a sport, we responded diligently by supporting our regions and unions both financially and with the implementation of the ‘Game On Community Law Variations’, and opt-in reduced tackle height trial in the community game. I would like to thank everyone, including the huge group of community club volunteers, who have made this possible.

“There truly is a form of the game for all – non contact, contact, sevens, fifteens - and I am excited to see girls and boys, men and women return to the sport in their millions or taking it up for the first time ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023 in France that will inspire a new generation to play and support the game.

“However, we will not stand still. More than 80 per cent of our players come from 20 nations and we must continue to ensure that our sport is as safe, attractive, accessible and relevant as possible in order to continue to grow beyond our traditional heartlands. Working tirelessly with our unions, we are committed to cementing rugby as the most progressive sport on player welfare, while also exploring ways to enhance the playing and viewing experience.”

World Rugby Participation Director Jason Lewis added: “Encouragingly, the return to rugby in the 15s game in 2023 was driven by pre-teens with 57 per cent of all players around the globe pre-teen, 24 per cent of them girls, demonstrating a deep connection between the attractiveness of the sport and the next generation of adult community players. Globally, the number of clubs has increased by more than 30 per cent.

“The challenge for all sports is retention given the competition in the entertainment and sports space and in 2021 we launched a renewed Participation Plan ( in partnership with unions and regions and continue to work towards making the sport as accessible and relevant as possible for young people with limited time.

“At the heart of the plan is to support unions to develop their capability and capacity and the ‘Game On Global’ community law variations are a great example which shows how World Rugby can support unions to drive the accessibility and sustainability of the sport. Aimed at simplicity, enjoyment, safety and getting games on irrespective of numbers, the programme provides a menu of options for unions. We must, therefore, continue to showcase the great versatility of rugby in all its formats as an inclusive and accessible sport for all.”

World Rugby’s participation plan aims to implement the foundations of long-term, sustainable growth. This will be achieved by supporting unions to increase their capability to promote participation through reaching new recruits, but also the retention of existing players. The plan sets out how the sport will attract new participants and continue to welcome back players following the global pandemic through a commitment to make it as safe, accessible, attractive and enjoyable as possible for all.

The participation plan recognises the diversity that exists across the globe and that unions are at different stages of development, with the need to adopt a differentiated approach that sees resources concentrated on supporting player retention in established nations, and on reaching new players in emerging nations.

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