Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter

EXACTLY a year after the Springboks of South Africa won the 2019 Rugby World Cup with a 32-12 triumph over England in Yokohama, Japan, a research has shown that interest in rugby has grown on the African continent.

The report published by World Rugby showed that rising rugby interest in Africa is not limited to just South Africa since several emerging nations, particularly Zimbabwe and Namibia, have shown impressive growth.

According to the findings, in Namibia and Zimbabwe, 50 percent of people are interested in rugby, 23% of people in Kenya have an interest in rugby, in Zambia and Madagascar, 19% of people are attracted to rugby. The new global study from Nielsen has recorded 877 million followers and 405 million fans of rugby union worldwide in 2019, up 11% and 18% on 2018 figures respectively.

Zimbabwe Rugby Union president, Aaron Jani said the results of the findings were positive for the game in the country as they indicate that there is potential for further grown for Zimbabwean rugby.

“This is very positive for Zimbabwe rugby. It means the growth potential is huge and is ready to be harnessed. It indicates a very bright future for Rugby in Zimbabwe,’’ said Jani.

Unparalleled growth is driven by uplift in women’s interest and participation in the sport along with surging enthusiasm in rugby’s emerging nations. Rugby is highly associated with a host of positive values such as teamwork, discipline and fair play.

A comprehensive report published by World Rugby exactly one year on from the Rugby World Cup 2019 final, based on results from two global surveys has highlighted the sport’s strong growth in both established and emerging rugby nations during 2019.

In a game-changing year for the sport, there was a significant increase in the perceived attractiveness of the sport resulting in a sharp increase in interest, inspired by the rise of women in rugby and a trail-blazing Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.

Conducted by global measurement and data analytics industry leaders Nielsen, the studies collected and evaluated data from both traditional and emerging rugby nations around the world and the key findings are released today in a white paper entitled “Global Reach of Rugby 2019”.

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “The results of this global Nielsen research demonstrate that 2019 was a fantastic year the sport, exemplified by a historic and spectacular Rugby World Cup and growing interest around the globe, with significant strides forward in the women’s game and amongst emerging nations.

“We have seen a phenomenal growth in interest, particularly in Japan and across Asia, and we are working closely together with our unions, partners and other stakeholders to build on that momentum to continue the strong development of our sport with progressive and sustainable change as we all adapt to the ‘new normal’ in global sport.

“While acknowledging that the results presented in this document were compiled before the Covid-19 pandemic began, the positive insights of this research give us reason for great optimism as we focus on the collective drive to return to the international rugby field in a safe, secure and stronger environment.”

Spencer Nolan, Nielsen Sports and Entertainment Managing Director for UK and Ireland said: “2019 was certainly a successful year for rugby, the highlight of which was undoubtedly the first Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia. Following the tournament, across 85 countries, we saw the number of rugby fans (those either interested or very interested) increase by 18 per cent from 344 million in 2018 to 405 million in 2019.  This is an incredible growth of over 60 million fans from one year to another.

“When compared against other major global sports including football, basketball, tennis, motorsport and golf, rugby union was the top performer in 2019 in terms of fan growth.”