THE 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan will not only benefit the host country but Asia as a wider region, according to the tournament’s chief operating officer.
Speaking at the All That Matters 2017 conference in Singapore, Alan Gilpin said the legacy plan to encourage 1 million new rugby players in Asia by the end of the 2019 tournament was on target.
He also said the legacy of the competition – the first time World Rugby has taken its showpiece event outside its traditional heartlands – would benefit countries such as China, India, Malaysia and Indonesia as well as Japan.
And Gilpin also suggested the rugby sevens competition at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo could end up having a bigger impact for the sport in Asia than the 15-a-side World Cup the previous year.
“We have been talking about legacy with Japan right from the moment the tournament was awarded in 2009,” said Gilpin.
“It’s about three things: one is infrastructure. Japan will be left with a far better rugby infrastructure than they have got now: more venues, more training venues, better coaches, a better volunteering system, which will enable more people to play the game.
“Then there’s hopefully the audience piece, so a lot more people interested in the sport, watching the sport, and consuming the sport in every way.
“And then there’s a wider Asian piece for us. How do we make sure a legacy doesn’t just happen in Japan, but happens outside Japan and across Asia?
“We have worked closely over the last couple of years with Asia Rugby as a regional association to try to find projects to attach the World Cup to.”
One of those is to inspire 1 million new rugby players to pick up a ball and start playing between now and November 2, 2019, when the tournament concludes at International Stadium Yokohama.
“We are working closely with China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and four or five other key territories, and saying ‘let’s use the World Cup as a reason for more kids to play the sport’,” said Gilpin.
“The project in mind is Asia One Million, which is to have 1 million new players in Asia by the time the World Cup finishes in 2019.
“We started two years ago and that is on track.”
Tournament organisers will be keen for hosts Japan to repeat their heroics from England in 2015, when they stunned the rugby world by beating two-times champions South Africa.
Around 25 million people are thought to have watched Japan’s following match – against Samoa – even though it kicked off late at night, Japanese time.
Previous World Cups have had the benefit of being staged in rugby hotbeds, meaning that if the host nation has exited early in the competition, there is enough general interest in the game to ensure the tournament thrives.
“It’s the first Rugby World Cup outside the traditional rugby strongholds, so that definitely presents some challenges and creates some nervousness,” said Gilpin.
“Will we have sold-out stadiums? Will we have the same level of audience engagement and fan engagement as we have had in previous World Cups?
“I think the answer is yes, we will – and we are confident about that. Not just because of Japan’s results in 2015, but the way rugby has been embraced in Japan.”
From an infrastructural perspective, Japan has experience of hosting big sporting tournaments, having co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup with South Korea.
Plans are also well underway for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo – and Gilpin says the rugby on offer at the Olympics could break down further barrier for the sport in Asia.
“Rugby sevens is probably a more easily consumed form of the game are in Asia than 15s – it’s easier to understand and play,” said Gilpin.
“I think we will see more boys and girls in Asia coming into rugby through playing sevens than the traditional 15-a-side game.
“The Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo will play a massive role in projecting rugby across Asia.”