With the all the recent movement arising from within the European continent regarding our great game, we could be excused for not paying enough attention to arguably rugby’s next great frontier.
Sure, the qualification of Russia for their first Rugby World Cup, the establishment of new Professional Leagues in the Ukraine and the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), and greater emphasis on development efforts in the lesser powers of the likes of the Netherlands (initiation of a nationwide development program including Academies) are all worthy of acknowledgement.
But we often neglect the great work occurring in Asia.
A region with over 357,981 registered player’s spread across 4,341 clubs amongst its 33 member Unions is still in many ways Rugby’s ‘undiscovered country’. (Note: I am aware Asia is not one country)
Rugby has a long history thanks to British colonialism in the region, which in many ways greatly damaged its ability to remain relevant in Asian societies at the end of the Imperial era.
However, thanks largely to those within the Asian Rugby Football Union and the IRB’s investment, rugby has not only recovered but has began to grow to the point that it is now our game’s fastest growing region.
Most encouraging of all, while in the years of old, rugby was strictly a game for European colonists, the faces you will see running around with a Gilbert in hand in today’s Asia are the local populous, and most importantly, local youth.
This growth has become so prolific that rugby has begun to emerge in nations many would not have possibly have considered in era’s gone by.
This has been most evident in the HSBC sponsored Asian 5 Nations, which apart from its namesake Championship, has several lower divisions ranging from Division 1 through to Division 3A, Band C as well as regional tournaments for developing Unions such as Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan.
Top this with last year’s inaugural Asian 7s Circuit, featuring tournaments in China, Philippines (this year will be replaced by Beirut), Malaysia, Brunei, Sri Lanka and Iran.
Rugby’s growth in Asia is undeniable.