The online home of Women's Rugby

Popularity and equality in women's rugby

What the numbers say...

A couple of weeks ago we updated our look at women's rugby player numbers worldwide. But not all countries are the same - so where is the game most popular? And also most equal?

Popularity

As was pointed out last year – player numbers alone are not the whole story about how popular a sport is. The United States may have nearly twice as many registered adult players than any other nation, but it also has far more women to begin with.

So – as we did last year – we are attempting here to find where women’s rugby is really the most popular by taking into account how many people actually live there (on the assumption that the more popular a sport is the greater proportion of the population will play it).

Last year we looked at all registered players but this year the table looks at is the number of adult players (over 18 years-old) in each Union per million adult women.

Again the women’s game appears most popular in the small island groups. Niue, Tonga, the Cook Islands, the Solomans and Samoa lead the way for the Pacific with the Atlantic islands of Bermuda and the Caymans not far behind.

But when it comes to the major rugby nations it is not the women of New Zealand who lead the way. Although the game is apparently proportionally more popular with schoolgirls there than anywhere else, when it comes to adult rugby, the home of the Black Ferns is comfortably beaten by Ireland and Wales.

With 1,511 adult players per million, women’s rugby in Ireland is (if the data is correct) more widely played than in any other major country. Wales is not far behind on 1,132 players per million – but New Zealand come a distant third with just 697. Scotland, England and Australia lie some distance behind, while France languish in 29th place (only just ahead of Belgium) and the United States are 38th, alongside the Dutch.

Equality

We’ve also had a look at where rugby is most “equal” – in this case the countries where the ratio of female to male players is highest - whether equality actually stretches to attitudes is perhaps another matter.

It is no surprise to see that Kazakhstan tops the list here as they have always had a reputation of having a near 50:50 split of men and women playing the game. Over 47% of registered adult players in Kazakhstan are women – and interestingly their leading women players do seem to be far better known than their men.

Over a third of players in China and Tunisia are women (with Finland and Norway not far behind), before we come to the United States where over a quarter of players are women (Canada is not far behind on just under 25%). 

However what is particularly interesting in this list is some of the countries near the bottom. Less than 9% of players in England are women, and in France it is less than 6%. Australia come in at 82nd place with just 4.8% of players being female, but even that is higher than South Africa’s 4.4% and New Zealand’s 4.3%.

Quite why the more “traditional” rugby nations have proportionally fewer players than where the game is “newer” is an interesting question – but it does suggest that these countries have huge potential to expand. If women’s rugby in England was as “equal” as it is in the United States, for example, England would have three times as many players – over 24,000.

Popularity of women’s rugby (players per million women)

 

Union

Registered adult women players

Players per million women

1

Niue Islands

30

49,586.78

2

Cook Islands

42

7,479.96

3

Tonga

267

6,895.66

4

Samoa

285

4,046.40

5

British Virgin Islands

27

2,566.54

6

Bermuda

50

2,075.64

7

Solomon Islands

378

1,733.91

8

Cayman Islands

35

1,675.92

9

Ireland

3,639

1,511.42

10

Vanuatu

120

1,209.13

11

American Samoa

24

1,152.74

12

Wales

1,300

1,131.62

13

Andorra

25

866.37

14

Guam

43

719.56

15

New Zealand

1,202

697.48

16

Fiji

200

620.75

17

Tahiti

35

539.08

18

Scotland

831

418.51

19

England

8,105

407.70

20

Australia

3,411

381.69

21

Malta

60

359.21

22

Botswana

260

337.22

23

Canada

3,715

277.11

24

Swaziland

106

252.52

25

Tunisia

1,022

248.15

26

Bahamas

35

247.32

27

St. Vincent & The Grenadines

10

244.65

28

Hong Kong

650

238.62

29

France

5,722

230.63

30

Belgium

851

201.80

31

South Africa

3,322

164.04

32

Papua New Guinea

450

162.20

33

Luxembourg

33

156.32

34

Trinidad & Tobago

73

146.58

35

Denmark

303

142.54

36

Sri Lanka

1,092

140.85

37

Singapore

270

131.63

38

USA

15,860

131.59

39

Netherlands

793

125.05

40

Barbados

12

112.28

41

Madagascar

850

103.77

42

Jamaica

98

96.15

43

Moldova

127

95.26

44

Italy

2,127

93.31

45

Paraguay

240

91.38

46

Finland

173

84.22

47

Switzerland

251

81.07

48

Spain

1,393

79.99

49

Norway

150

77.26

50

Lithuania

84

77.12

51

Czech Republic

282

71.36

52

Uruguay

90

70.26

53

Namibia

60

70.15

54

Latvia

52

70.01

55

Sweden

240

65.41

56

Mauritius

30

63.43

57

Hungary

225

60.92

58

Portugal

239

60.83

59

Kazakhstan

370

56.32

60

Argentina

843

52.12

61

Chile

350

51.83

62

Zambia

250

43.08

63

Cameroon

300

37.84

64

Guyana

10

35.70

65

Croatia

55

34.37

66

Bulgaria

92

34.06

67

Germany

1,022

33.61

68

Bosnia and Herzegovina

42

29.54

69

Israel

92

29.35

70

Senegal

140

27.64

71

Austria

84

26.04

72

Slovenia

20

25.80

73

Zimbabwe

125

25.52

74

Colombia

449

24.83

75

Poland

332

23.01

76

Romania

170

22.73

77

Peru

218

18.66

78

Venezuela

208

18.11

79

United Arab Emirates

60

16.71

80

Georgia

23

16.45

81

Greece

56

13.70

82

Serbia

36

13.43

83

Morocco

160

12.80

84

Brazil

754

9.83

85

Japan

453

9.52

86

Russia

500

9.10

87

Mexico

405

8.93

88

Ukraine

140

8.71

89

Kenya

150

8.56

90

Uganda

110

8.42

91

Thailand

160

6.55

92

Malaysia

75

6.53

93

Korea

121

6.28

94

Ivory Coast

45

5.29

95

Chinese Taipei

40

4.55

96

Philippines

150

3.93

97

Uzbekistan

44

3.78

98

Pakistan

195

2.73

99

India

753

1.58

100

China

500

0.97

101

Nigeria

50

0.73

102

Indonesia

20

0.21

103

Monaco

0

0.00

 

Equality of women’s rugby (percentage of women players)

  

Registered adult women players

Registered adult men players

 

1

Kazakhstan

370

416

47.07%

2

China

500

1,000

33.33%

3

Tunisia

1,022

2,059

33.17%

4

Finland

173

400

30.19%

5

Norway

150

350

30.00%

6

Guam

43

106

28.86%

7

USA

15,860

44,518

26.27%

8

Bulgaria

92

290

24.08%

9

Canada

3,715

11,741

24.04%

10

Swaziland

106

339

23.82%

11

Barbados

12

40

23.08%

12

Philippines

150

500

23.08%

13

Niue Islands

30

100

23.08%

14

Hong Kong

650

2,200

22.81%

15

Bermuda

50

170

22.73%

16

Bahamas

35

120

22.58%

17

Jamaica

98

336

22.58%

18

Paraguay

240

850

22.02%

19

Moldova

127

463

21.53%

20

Colombia

449

1,700

20.89%

21

Andorra

25

95

20.83%

22

Cayman Islands

35

135

20.59%

23

Israel

92

360

20.35%

24

Venezuela

208

835

19.94%

25

Solomon Islands

378

1,520

19.92%

26

India

753

3,123

19.43%

27

Peru

218

912

19.29%

28

Denmark

303

1,296

18.95%

29

Brazil

754

3,293

18.63%

30

Mexico

405

1,904

17.54%

31

Ireland

3,639

17,293

17.38%

32

Czech Republic

282

1,352

17.26%

33

Bosnia and Herzegovina

42

203

17.14%

34

Belgium

851

4,184

16.90%

35

Botswana

260

1,287

16.81%

36

Germany

1,022

5,205

16.41%

37

Ukraine

140

755

15.64%

38

Singapore

270

1,520

15.08%

39

Malta

60

340

15.00%

40

Senegal

140

820

14.58%

41

Romania

170

1,125

13.13%

42

Nigeria

50

350

12.50%

43

Tonga

267

1,880

12.44%

44

Netherlands

793

5,643

12.32%

45

Mauritius

30

220

12.00%

46

Zambia

250

1,900

11.63%

47

Zimbabwe

125

960

11.52%

48

Cook Islands

42

333

11.20%

49

Hungary

225

1,792

11.16%

50

Lithuania

84

673

11.10%

51

Portugal

239

1,919

11.08%

52

Latvia

52

432

10.74%

53

Sri Lanka

1,092

9,100

10.71%

54

Trinidad & Tobago

73

612

10.66%

55

Austria

84

715

10.51%

56

Ivory Coast

45

390

10.34%

57

Uganda

110

965

10.23%

58

Sweden

240

2,197

9.85%

59

Pakistan

195

1,800

9.77%

60

Switzerland

251

2,385

9.52%

61

Korea

121

1,209

9.10%

62

Croatia

55

561

8.93%

63

England

8,105

82,682

8.93%

64

Spain

1,393

14,263

8.90%

65

Italy

2,127

22,125

8.77%

66

Luxembourg

33

356

8.48%

67

Uruguay

90

973

8.47%

68

Slovenia

20

217

8.44%

69

St. Vincent & The Grenadines

10

111

8.26%

70

Chile

350

4,100

7.87%

71

Guyana

10

125

7.41%

72

Russia

500

6,410

7.24%

73

Kenya

150

1,991

7.01%

74

Uzbekistan

44

637

6.46%

75

Scotland

831

12,149

6.40%

76

Poland

332

4,918

6.32%

77

American Samoa

24

370

6.09%

78

United Arab Emirates

60

960

5.88%

79

Madagascar

850

14,371

5.58%

80

France

5,722

98,580

5.49%

81

Namibia

60

1,100

5.17%

82

Australia

3,411

67,052

4.84%

83

Serbia

36

745

4.61%

84

Tahiti

35

727

4.59%

85

Thailand

160

3,500

4.37%

86

South Africa

3,322

72,890

4.36%

87

New Zealand

1,202

26,614

4.32%

88

Wales

1,300

31,960

3.91%

89

Samoa

285

7,545

3.64%

90

Argentina

843

25,100

3.25%

91

Malaysia

75

2,480

2.94%

92

Georgia

23

1,171

1.93%

93

Fiji

200

17,310

1.14%

94

Japan

453

42,899

1.04%

95

Chinese Taipei

40

4,252

0.93%

96

Monaco

0

172

0.00%

 

Where is women's rugby a more popular adult sport than New Zealand?

And what is so special about Kazakhstan?