Bill Beaumont On 25 Years Of Professional Rugby


On the decision

“In many ways, 1995 was a historic year for the sport with a transformational Rugby World Cup in South Africa and that Mandela moment. The decision by the then IRB for the game to go open, was just as big, right up there with the 95 World Cup and our return to the Olympics in terms of global impact.

“It was a decision that changed the sport. It was necessary and it paved the way for the sport’s phenomenal development and growth.

On the rate of growth and change

“The game has changed at a rapid pace over the last 25 years - probably grown at a rate greater than any other major sport.

“We’ve gone from 70 national unions in membership of World Rugby to 127 with Africa and Asia leading the growth charge.

“Player numbers have ballooned from less than a million to over nine million driven by young females in emerging rugby nations.

“Rugby’s fanbase is big and growing, it’s increased by more than 30 per cent to over 400 million since 2013, driven by men’s and women’s RWC success and the Olympics.

“The men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups have been a huge success story. They are our global platform to showcase the best of the game and deliver great economic, sporting and social dividends for the sport. If 1995 was transformational, historic, then last year’s men’s RWC in Japan, was a game-changer, driving participation and interest growth in Asia. If you compare it to 1995, the viewing audience has grown from around 50-100 million to 2.04 billion with the broadcast and digital media revolution.

“Of course, to grow fanbases you need great events and stars, and we have plenty of them across the men’s and women’s 15s and sevens games, but the game, the product also needs to be relevant and attractive. This is why we have a law review process, we are always striving to make the game, simpler, safer and more accessible for all.

“The shape of the game has changed dramatically over the period. Ball in play time has increased from 27 minutes to almost 40 minutes, there are 10 fewer scrums per game than in 1995 and there are more tries, but we are continuing to make advances that aid simplicity and safety, such as the enforcement of law at the breakdown, the High Tackle Sanction Framework which is reducing concussion rates and the 50:22 concept, which has been trialled in Fiji and Australia.

“None of this growth would be possible without the army of passionate volunteers, trained educators and coaches who play such a critical role around the world. We have a workforce of almost 1,000 educators and trainers within our unions and are on course for more than 140,000 coachings, medical and law course completion this year, which would be a record.

“The advance over the last 25 years that I am most passionate about is in the area of player welfare. Rugby is a physical sport, there is no denying that but we are working tirelessly using research and experts to reduce injury rates, particularly concussion, where we are making important inroads, and we are committed to ensuring the best possible playing environment for players at all levels.

On the next 25 years

“Rugby must continue to be relevant to young people and therefore the sport needs to remain focused on making it as safe, simple, accessible and enjoyable to everyone.

“We must listen to and place players at the heart of the conversation and decisions and embrace new technology to drive evidence-based player welfare advances.

“We must convert the amazing opportunity of the future RWC host selection process to deliver a 10-year hosting strategy that will enable the game to reach and inspire new audiences, new fans and participants.

“We need to continue to impress at the Olympics – the world’s biggest sporting stage – and enable these incredible men and women to inspire the next generation of rugby fans and players with their incredible skills.

“We need a robust and equitable international competition calendar that recognises the needs of the professional club game, the international game and delivers the platform for women’s 15s rugby to thrive alongside men’s competitions.

“Ultimately for our sport to grow, we need to break new markets, raise the level of competition across the game and take our events to new nations.”