While recognising the challenges facing society and sport as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the plan sets out World Rugby’s long-term mission to support and enhance the game. It builds on strong foundations, with 9.6 million people playing the sport globally and the worldwide fan base increasing by two-thirds in rugby’s established markets and doubling in emerging markets over the past decade to more than 405 million.
The strategy aims to welcome existing and new participants beyond the pandemic to unite the rugby family and strengthen and grow the sport by striving to make it as safe, enjoyable, appealing and accessible as possible at all levels. It focuses on four key areas that are vital to the future prosperity of the sport - Competition, Participation, Engagement and The Game itself. For each, World Rugby has set a series of game-changing targets that reflect its ambition and values.
MAKING THE GAME ALL IT CAN BE
Player welfare transcends everything that World Rugby does and continues to be the number one priority. Throughout the life of the strategic plan, World Rugby will lead an open discussion with the rugby family and independent experts to continually advance player welfare guided by evolving research, science and technology. It will continue to lead targeted research to inform and advance injury prevention and mental wellbeing and drive player welfare-centred law review and trials to further protect players at all levels of the game.
Alongside this, World Rugby will collaborate with the global rugby family to evolve the game to ensure it is attractive and relevant to a new generation of participants. This will include exploring ways to supercharge sevens, enhance the community game and further develop the non-contact offering for emerging nations, where shorter formats such as Touch and Tag are attracting newcomers to the sport. Recent Nielsen data demonstrates that in some nations two-thirds of new rugby followers are introduced via non-traditional formats.
In delivering the plan, World Rugby intends to further tap into the depth and range of expertise across the sport and beyond, building on the increasing number of players, players’ representatives and coaches on World Rugby’s Committees. Similarly, its Fan Panel, which was launched in 2020, and in-depth research will be used to inform planning and ensure fans remain at the forefront of decision making.
ADVANCING THE CALENDAR AND COMPETITIONS
Building on the successful launch of the WXV women’s international competition and planned support for Pacific Islands professional rugby franchises, the plan sets out to advance and unify the men’s international fifteens and sevens calendars to build a stronger and more aligned sport for all. In partnership with rugby’s stakeholders, World Rugby will facilitate discussions and seek to develop a more compelling competition structure and unified approach to test rugby within the July and November windows.
With player welfare central to considerations, World Rugby is reviewing the role and portfolio of its competitions with the objective of increasing global competitiveness and diversifying revenues for the sport. Game-changing targets include the launch of new men’s and women’s emerging nations competitions by 2022 to boost high performance competition opportunities, as well as a revamped sevens rugby ecosystem.
As the sport looks beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, a key objective for grassroots and elite rugby alike is to facilitate players, officials, volunteers and fans back to the game in a safe and secure manner in all regions of the world. To mitigate the impact on the grassroots game and broaden global development, World Rugby will work in partnership with regions and unions to retain players, with a particular focus on the 15 a side game, building capacity and capability.
The plan also reflects World Rugby’s commitment to the success of women in rugby – the single biggest opportunity to grow the sport.
As the halfway stage of the 2017-25 Women’s Development Plan approaches, World Rugby will build on the progress that has already been made in all areas, from leadership to competition, grassroots to commercial, and extend the success of the ‘Try and Stop Us’ campaign to further increase the number of women involved in the sport.
World Rugby will also be launching a new plan to accelerate diversity and inclusion across all levels of the game in line with the recommendations of the organisation’s wide-ranging governance review.
To promote and increase engagement in a marketplace where the competition for attention is continually increasing, World Rugby will facilitate knowledge sharing, as well as generating insight and materials, such as marketing and communications toolkits, for regional associations and unions. A 10% increase in global followers and fans by 2025 is being targeted. World Rugby is also committed to further enhancing the way it works with stakeholders across the rugby family by introducing a new ‘State of the Union’ survey to gather feedback and better understand the needs of its partners.
World Rugby’s commercial, broadcast and content strategy will be focused on growing rugby’s audiences around the world, delivering compelling and relevant content to fans and developing new and increased revenues for re-investment in the game. This will include optimising digital platforms, building interest and engagement in between events and ensuring insight and value from audience data is maximised.
WAYS OF WORKING – A RESPONSIBLE PARTNER
World Rugby’s values are inherent in everything it does, and diversity, inclusion, sustainability and good governance are at the heart of the Strategic Plan 2021-25. It will see the implementation of measures that build on the transformational reforms made in 2015 and the recommendations of the independent-led Governance Working Group, as well as the publication of a Sustainability Charter.
World Rugby Chair Sir Bill 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.”
World Rugby Vice Chair Bernard Laporte added: “This is an important moment for World Rugby and the sport – a clear and aspirational plan that will protect and promote the growth of the sport worldwide, beyond its traditional nations. Now, more than ever, the game needs unity, vision and leadership and this reflects our ambitions as we look to support our unions through the most challenging period in sporting and societal history.”
World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin 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.”