The online home of Women's Rugby

Worldwide popularity of women’s rugby 2016

Last week we looked at the growth of women’s rugby worldwide, and the countries with the most registered players. But statistics can be deceptive, not all countries are the same size. So where are participatoin rates highest, or in other words where is women's rugby most popular?

As has been pointed out before, the countries at the top of the list are also tend to be big countries – it is hardly surprising that England has more players than Ireland when it has a population that is nearly 10 times large. So in the past two years we tried to take that into account by looking at how many players there were per million women in each country.

This year we are doing the same again, but instead of a perhaps difficult to visualise “players per million” figure we will instead look at a simple ratio – what proportion of the total female population is a registered rugby player. We are using the latest published figure for the total population of each country and including all ages from children who are too young to play, to women who are too old.

The Pacific Islands again do remarkably well on this figure – indeed Tonga tops the table (as it did in 2014) with a truly remarkable one in eight women and girls being a registered as a players with the Fijian RFU, which (once you take into account babies and the elderly) must be close to saturation point.

The Cook Islands, despite a population of only 19,100, also show why they will be in Dublin for the Olympic qualifier as there cannot be many talented players who are missed when one woman or girl in 17 in the islands plays rugby.

The Caribbean makes an appearance at third with St Vincent, the  only other country where better than one female in 100 plays rugby – and it is perhaps no co-incidence that they are one of the smallest countries to play test rugby (only the Cayman Islands is smaller among the test playing nations).

Fourth place is a surprise as Swaziland has yet to play any international rugby at all. The game is growing rapidly there – but at present only among schoolchildren (of both sexes). If just a fraction of those children could stay in the game Africa could have a new team to rival the existing continental powers. The table also answers questions such as how come the island of Guam does so well in Asian rugby – because no-where in Asia is the game more widely played than in Guam.

It is perhaps not a surprise to see New Zealand in sixth place, but it may be a surprise to see Ireland in seventh as the top European country – but a strong tradition of women’s team sports allied to on-field success is producing remarkable growth, with Irish women’s rugby growing four times faster than men’s.

Of the major nations Wales and Australia come next, a similar pair to New Zealand and Ireland with tradition and on-field success combining to encourage better than one in 500 women and girls to play rugby regularly. South Africa and Scotland are not too far behind.

It is, perhaps, surprising to find Fiji so low in the table with less than one women or girl in a 1000 playing rugby – far below most other Pacific nations – but a look at the experiences of many current Fijian players reveals a conservatism that only recent televised successes have started to overcome. But it also shows the enormous potential that Fiji has. Now that their Women's Sevens World Series team is showing that this is a game for everyone in the islands the growth of rugby among teenage girls has been huge.

England are the first of the “big three” countries, not far behind Fiji and with almost twice the participation rate of France, while the United States and Canada – with almost identical participation rates – lie about midway down the list.

Women’s rugby participation rates
(Ratio of registered female rugby players to the total female population)

 

Country

1 in every… plays rugby

1

Tonga

8

2

Cook Islands

17

3

St. Vincent & the Grenadines

74

4

Swaziland

123

5

Solomon Islands

125

6

New Zealand

131

7

Ireland

155

8

Bermuda

172

9

Guam

191

10

Tahiti

225

11

Botswana

234

12

Samoa

262

13

Namibia

311

14

Malta

362

15

Australia

449

16

Wales

464

17

Papua New Guinea

474

18

British Virgin Islands

528

19

Cayman Islands

529

20

Vanuatu

622

21

South Africa

693

22

Scotland

723

23

Hong Kong

870

24

Andorra

897

25

Barbados

1018

26

Fiji

1100

27

Tunisia

1204

28

England

1235

29

Senegal

1535

30

Moldova

2049

31

American Samoa

2379

32

France

2413

33

Rwanda

2512

34

Uganda

2552

35

Trinidad & Tobago

2812

36

Singapore

2883

37

Canada

2921

38

United States

2951

39

Guyana

3247

40

Sri Lanka

3642

41

Luxembourg

3742

42

Jamaica

4255

43

Italy

4411

44

Zambia

4605

45

Belgium

4671

46

Bahamas

4838

47

Madagascar

5157

48

Netherlands

5331

49

Peru

5623

50

Denmark

5719

51

Uruguay

5859

52

Mauritius

6014

53

Bulgaria

6624

54

Thailand

6800

55

Zimbabwe

7065

56

Latvia

7624

57

Spain

8054

58

Kazakhstan

9323

59

Georgia

9370

60

Norway

9838

61

Sweden

9867

62

Romania

9930

63

Argentina

10190

64

Kenya

10335

65

Lithuania

10583

66

Czech Republic

11017

67

Portugal

11156

68

Switzerland

12243

69

Philippines

14092

70

Finland

15256

71

Chile

15901

72

Serbia

16023

73

United Arab Emirates

16319

74

Morocco

17867

75

Japan

18822

76

Croatia

19205

77

Cameroon

19936

78

Israel

23579

79

Bosnia & Herzegovina

24307

80

Germany

24913

81

Ukraine

26802

82

Hungary

28893

83

Slovenia

30451

84

Paraguay

31736

85

Austria

32949

86

Poland

33761

87

Russia

39308

88

Malaysia

44189

89

Colombia

48638

90

Greece

52138

91

Chinese Taipei

57045

92

Venezuela

62814

93

Brazil

68634

94

Mexico

71685

95

Ivory Coast

80972

96

China

98328

97

Pakistan

129870

98

Uzbekistan

139665

99

India

144300

100

Nigeria

267380

101

Korea

862069

102

Indonesia

1298701