Rugby World Cup 2019: opportunities for communities in Japan

Written by Sterling Content
March 22, 2019


Written by Sterling Content
March 22, 2019

As the best-attended, most-watched, most socially engaged and most commercially successful Rugby World Cup (RWC) in history, England 2015 was record-breaking—but Japan 2019 will be ground-breaking. That is according to RWC organisers, who report that Asia’s first RWC is on track to be the most impactful in history.

Welcoming 400,000 visitors over 44 days in 12 host cities, Japan 2019 aims to be not only a game-changer for rugby but also for regional revitalisation and social change. It promises opportunities for communities across Japan.

The BCCJ, as part of The Rugby Alliance, aims to contribute by helping deliver “a legacy of more inclusive communities that embrace opportunities for international business and exchange.”

Grassroots rugby

Fundamental to the future of rugby in Japan—a relatively new market for the sport—is engaging with children and young people. To that end, World Rugby rolled out Impact Beyond, a central pillar in its mission to grow the game globally, enabling women, men, girls and boys to be introduced to the game around the world.

Designed to deliver a legacy for rugby, the programme offered a Rugby Induction Day at 171 schools within the 12 host cities, in 2018, in which some 3,000 children took part. Following the success, the programme has expanded to include schools in non-RWC host cities.

In March, BCCJ member Jaguar Land Rover became the first official partner of Impact Beyond and is set to work with World Rugby, Asia Rugby and the Japan Rugby Football Union on grassroots festivals.

“We are very proud to be introducing more young people to the sport ahead of Rugby World Cup 2019,” said Magnus Hansson, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover Japan. “As Japan gets ready to host its first Rugby World Cup, we are delighted to continue our commitment to developing the game and spreading the passion and values we have long shared with rugby.”

World Rugby is also eyeing rugby’s growth in Asia, as it is the fastest growing continent demographically. According to Nielson data, there are 112 million rugby fans in Asia, including 14 million in Japan.

Ahead of the RWC 2019, World Rugby reports to have invested more than 400 million into the game across the region, to deliver “a legacy of sustainable rugby not only in Japan but also in the Asian continent.”

The efforts are bearing fruit. By the end of 2018, the Impact Beyond legacy programme secured its target of one million participants, nine months earlier than planned. What’s more, 9,500 children and youth from Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam have benefited from participation in the ChildFund Pass it Back programme, a Sport for Development programme led by ChildFund in partnership with World Rugby, Asia Rugby and Women Win to bring social change through the power of sport. 

Excitement around the RWC 2019 is also driving the creation and development of rugby clubs across Japan.

One such club is Shibuya International Rugby Club, which beat community-driven rugby organisations worldwide to scoop the 2018 Rhino Grass Roots Rugby award for being “truly inclusive.” Judges noted that, “in a country which lacks public playing fields and where rugby clubs are centred on school, universities and companies, SIRC is a new, open club based in a locality and focused on mini and junior rugby for boys and girls.”

By bringing together children from all backgrounds, the club is also testament to the idea that rugby can transcend language and cultural differences.

Revitalising regions

Though Japan’s inbound tourism continues to hit record highs, most international visitors remain on the Golden Route of Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima.

But the RWC 2019 can provide an economic boost to regional Japan, which has been affected by depopulation in recent years. World Rugby estimates the tournament will provide ¥216.6 billion added value to the economy, as well as rugby and sports facilities for communities. 

According to Akira Shimazu, CEO of the RWC Organising Committee, “there is a palpable sense of excitement steadily building throughout Japan. Our 12 host cities are actively preparing to welcome visitors from across the world by highlighting their unique attractions and character to the more than 400,000 visiting fans expected.”

Local organisations are working to provide travel packages, tourist information and fan zones, particularly as ticket sales have exceeded all expectations. Meanwhile, BCCJ member STH Japan, the official travel and hospitality provider, has revised up its official supporter tour and hospitality programme estimates owing to domestic and global demand.

Recovery of disaster-affected areas

The RWC 2019 has already provided a vital boost to host city Kamaishi, in Iwate Prefecture.

The port town of 36,000 residents was devasted by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011, which resulted in the loss or damage of 30% of homes and 60% of businesses.

One of Japan’s long-established rugby towns, Kamaishi is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the RWC. Since 2015, its motto has been “rebuilding through rugby” as the tournament offers not only an economic injection, but also inspiration and hope.

Kumamoto, too, is eyeing the RWC as a way to support its recovery following the 6.5 and 7.3 magnitude tremors that shook the city in 2016. Though restoration of the iconic castle will take decades, efforts are underway to promote to inbound visitors the other delights of the city. 

Diversity and inclusion

Success across Japan in attracting people of all genders, backgrounds and abilities to rugby, rugby-related activities and RWC delivery is advancing the dialogue in Japan about diversity and inclusion (D&I).

D&I and the ethos of rugby, which includes teamwork, resilience and respect, are attracting the attention of firms keen to align themselves to rugby and the RWC.

While some businesses have set up related events and activities, others are engaging with existing local tournaments and campaigns. By doing so, they can amplify their values, inspire their staff and align their brands with a positive message without a heavy organisational burden. 

As part of the BCCJ’s role in The Rugby Alliance, it will be supporting rugby-related events and activities in the lead up the RWC in September.

Produced by Sterling Content for the BCCJ