World Rugby issues four-pronged strategic plan to drive recovery and growth
World Rugby, the international governing body for rugby union, has today launched its strategic plan for 2021 to 2025, which aims, among other goals, to raise the global appeal of the sport, unify calendars and increase participation and engagement.
Entitled ‘A Global Sport for All – True to its Values’, the plan, being driven by Bill Beaumont after he was re-elected as chairman, for a further four-year term, in 2020, is intended to help rugby recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and provide a platform for long-term growth.
It is based on four key areas, namely competition, participation, engagement and ‘The Game’ itself, with World Rugby setting targets to reflect its ambition and values.
These aim to build on the foundations of 9.6 million people playing the sport worldwide and the fanbase having increased by two-thirds in established markets and doubled in emerging markets over the past decade to more than 405 million.
For players there is a commitment to player welfare through research, science and technology, but also plans to evolve rugby, including to "supercharge" sevens, the reduced format of the sport that now features at the Olympic Games, enhance the community game and develop non-contact versions in emerging nations.
In addition, there will be greater input from within the sport and beyond, with an increasing number of players, players' representatives and coaches on World Rugby committees, while the Fan Panel launched in 2020, and in-depth research, will ensure continued influence from supporters in decision making.
The global calendar, with regular clashes between the international and club games and between the northern and southern hemispheres, has long been a thorny issue in rugby, but the strategic plan aims to “advance and unify the men’s international 15s and sevens calendars to build a stronger and more aligned sport for all”.
World Rugby added that it intends to facilitate discussions and develop “a more compelling competition structure and unified approach to test rugby within the July and November windows”.
There are also targets to develop men’s and women’s competitions in emerging nations by 2022, and revamp the sevens ecosystem.
In the wake of the pandemic, the governing body has said it will work with stakeholders to welcome players, officials, volunteers and fans back to grassroots and elite rugby "in a safe and secure manner in all regions of the world".
In particular, it will work in partnership with regions and unions to retain players, particularly in the 15-a-side-game, building capacity and capability. There will also be a strong focus on women's rugby, described as "the single biggest opportunity to grow the sport," with World Rugby now mid-way through the 2017-25 Women's Development Plan.
Moreover, the governing body plans to accelerate diversity and inclusion at all levels in line with the recommendations of its governance review.
In terms of engagement, World Rugby has set a target to increase global followers by 10 per cent by 2025. It aims to achieve this via knowledge sharing with regional associations and unions, and is planning a global ‘State of the Union’ survey to gather feedback and get a better understanding of the needs of its partners.
The governing body added that its commercial, broadcast and content strategy will focus on growing audiences around the world, delivering compelling and relevant content to fans and developing new and increased resources for reinvestment in rugby.
This will include optimising digital platforms and building interest and engagement in between events and analysing audience data.
Welcoming the release of the plan, Beaumont said: “The ambitious Strategic Plan 2021-25, recognises the current challenges and sets out a long-term roadmap to support and develop rugby around the globe. It will focus and guide us as we work to ensure the game is as enjoyable, accessible, appealing and safe as possible, with player welfare remaining our number one priority.
“This is not just a plan for World Rugby, it is a plan for the whole rugby family that has embraced input from across the rugby community, from unions and regions to partners and stakeholders. Everyone has a role to play, whether they be a player, parent, fan, volunteer, coach or administrator, and we look forward to driving the sport forward together.”
Alan Gilpin, World Rugby's new chief executive, added: "In these uncertain and challenging times, it has never been more important to map a route ahead for the sport. This new Strategic Plan 2021-25 provides a framework for the continued development and expansion of rugby as we strive to continue our journey towards becoming a global sport for all.
“As an organisation, a sport and a family, this plan will guide how we tackle the three Cs of Covid, calendar and concussion, and build the foundations for a safer, stronger and more sustainable game for all. We will focus on advancing player welfare and international competitiveness, increase participation, grow revenues and deepen fan engagement.
“In delivering this plan, we will work in full partnership with our unions, regional associations and partners and look to tap into the expertise across the rugby family and beyond, as well as listening to our fans. We will further enhance our governance and decision-making structures and, importantly, our strong values, which we know are central to our sport’s appeal, will remain at the heart of all we do.”
The four-year cycle includes the next Rugby World Cup for women in New Zealand, which has been postponed by a year to 2022, and the next men's edition, to be held in France, in 2023.