Positive Impacts of Rugby World Cup 2019
The first Rugby World Cup in Asia drew to a close at Yokohama Stadium on Saturday 2 November, with the mighty South Africa crowned champions over England.
But this edition of Rugby World CupTM will be remembered for more than just what happened on the pitch, it broke a magnitude of records and has the potential to change the sport forever.
Japan 2019 has changed rugby’s status quo
For a long time, Rugby World Cup (RWC) was dominated by the teams that play in the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship and Europe’s Six Nations. Occasionally, there are upsets but typically it’s the teams playing in these premier competitions that feature in the quarter finals. This time, Japan proved their win against South Africa in England 2015 was no fluke by beating Ireland and Scotland in thrilling pool encounters in front of a vocal home crowd. They were unable to beat South Africa in the quarter finals but Japan’s performance means that Tier 1 nations must take them seriously and schedule regular meaningful encounters so they can build on their momentum.
This story is not complete without acknowledging the local fans. More than 58,8 million Japanese tuned in to watch their teams Quarter Final on TV –more than half the population and a record for a rugby match. Even when their team was knocked out they still continued to attend matches and the fanzones.
Needless to say Japan’s Rugby World Cup journey has surpassed all expectations, not just as a team but as the first Asian nation to host the tournament.
With a record GDP 2,97 billion economic impact delivered for Japan, Rugby World Cup has not only shone a spotlight on rugby in Asia but contributed significantly to business and commercial opportunities. Overall Japan 2019 sold 1.84 million tickets to live matches (99.3% of capacity) while more than 1.13 million people attended the official fanzones in the city to catch the action and soak up the atmosphere. During the tournament 500 000international visitors flew in, filling the hotels, restaurants and bars to capacity for six whole weeks.
The economic benefits of the tournament weren’t just felt in the Capital of Tokyo; matches were played in stadia across the country. Cities such as Oita in the South and Kobe and Osaka in Central Honshu enjoyed increased local spending, additional employment opportunities, and even investment in local facilities and services. According to an economic benefit report produced by Ernst & Young for Japan Rugby 2019, more than 25,000 employment opportunities were directly and indirectly created domestically because of the tournament.
As a city with a rich rugby pedigree, Kamaishi was a poignant location for a purpose-built stadium. The intimate and utterly unique Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium saluted the people who lost their lives in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and marked the resilience of those who overcame adversity to rebuild their city. Sadly, Japan was also hit by some extreme weather conditions during the world cup, which affected many thousands of people and their homes. A portion of the money raised through ticket sales and donations, the online shop and sponsors and donors, has gone to help future emergency-relief efforts in disaster affected areas of Japan.
World Rugby knew they were heading into uncharted water when they awarded the tournament to Japan 10 years ago, but with a successful edition in England in 2015, the risk was a calculated one. Broadcast revenues tend to be higher when Rugby World Cup is played in time zones suitable for European, UK and South African viewers and so a financial loss was expected in this line item. But this was not to be the case, broadcast revenues were higher actually than in 2015 - an impressive result from an untested rugby market.
Sport for Change
Through the generosity of the global rugby family, a record breaking $US2.5 million was raised from the tournament for the ChildFund Pass It Back (PIB) initiative, The donations are now being used to support over 25,000 underprivileged young people via rugby and life skills programmes - a unique approach to alleviating poverty and instilling change in rural communities in South East Asia. With a focus on gender inclusion, (approximately half of all players and coaches to-date are female) PIB aims to equip young people to overcome challenges, inspire positive social change and ‘pass it back’ to their communities.
Rugby World Cup 2019 was also an opportunity to inspire a new generation of young players. The Societe Generale Rugby Spirit Festival in Yokohama brought together 96 young people from 12 charities focusing on social inclusion and 150 students from a Japanese Junior High School. Implemented in collaboration with ChildFund, the Festival gave kids a once in a lifetime opportunity to connect with Japan through rugby and be part of a Rugby World Cup semi-final.
The Rugby Family
While we enjoyed the spectacle of rugby being played at its highest level, the sport is well known for its grassroots approach. The Rugby family is a strong network of passionate and dedicated individuals and we are excited to see the next generation of players and fans develop (particularly in Asia). Off the pitch, RWC2019 proved to be the most impactful in history with 1.8 million new players from Asia involved in rugby as part of the Impact Beyond legacy programme. This is a poignant statistic. For a time, the sport’s governing body struggled to grow the game in saturated markets where the sport was already popular. RWC in Japan has captured the hearts of a new tribe and we hope that rugby will continue to ride on this wave as we look ahead to France 2023.