TOKYO, 31 Oct - World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont has opened the 14th World Rugby General Assembly in Tokyo, praising the Japanese for hosting one of the great Rugby World Cups, thanking the membership for global participation growth and calling on the game to work together to continue to evolve and attract a new generation of players and fans as the international federation develops a new strategic plan.

Rugby World Cup 2019 has captured the imagination of a nation and fans around the world with its special atmosphere of hospitality, friendship and celebration. Asia’s first tournament has attracted record broadcast, stadia and fanzone attendances, social, digital and media engagement and delivered a record participation and economic impact. It has also demonstrated reduced concussion and injury rates.

During a big year for the sport, rugby participation grew to 9.6 million players (3.5m registered) with female participation in emerging markets leading the way. Despite a competitive entertainment and sports environment, rugby’s fanbase grew from 338 to 344 million in 2018, according to the latest Nielsen research, again driven by increased female popularity and emerging markets growth.

Reflecting on a busy two years since the last General Assembly and in anticipation of a new strategic plan, Beaumont spoke of partnership and collaboration as the keys to success and reiterated his mission to deliver a stronger, sustainable game for all.

Beaumont said: “These are exciting, yet challenging times for rugby and sport in general. The competition for a share of participation, viewership and youth engagement has never been stronger.

“As World Rugby, we must continue to innovate, be receptive to our environment and in-tune with the needs of our unions to build a stronger, better game for all.

“Over the last two years we have achieved great, historic change. Transformational governance reform continues to be implemented, eligibility reform has been adopted and we continue to further the advancement of women at all levels of our sport.

“And, of course, we have witnessed a truly special Rugby World Cup 2019, perhaps the greatest Rugby World Cup. It’s resounding success on every level vindicates our bold decision to award Asia’s first Rugby World Cup to Japan and attracting a new audience and fanbase for our sport.

“These are significant advancements for a global sport and today we consider the pillars of a new strategic plan. A plan that must and will promote youth, player welfare and opportunities for all.

“At the heart of everything we do will be our values of integrity, solidarity, discipline, respect and passion and I will ensure that this continues to be central to our decision-making process.

“I would like to thank all the members for their continued commitment to building a stronger, better, more inclusive, thriving game for all.”

Since Beaumont’s election in 2016 alongside Vice-Chairman Agustín Pichot, the international federation has accelerated change, delivering historic reform of its governance structures with Georgia, Romania, USA, Fiji, Samoa and Uruguay having joined its Council, which now features 17 female representatives.

Beaumont has also presided over historic reform of national eligibility criteria under Regulation 8, implemented a new off-field disciplinary process and reformed Regulation 17, promoting player welfare.

Beaumont added: “My mission continues to be to strengthen our unions, increase our global footprint and ensure that our values continue to be at the heart of our decision-making processes.

“Collectively we need to always be looking to the future and work together to ensure that World Rugby strengthens its position as the voice of rugby for rugby, working in partnership with our regions and unions to ensure that we are not just a good federation, but a great federation that has integrity, inclusivity and player welfare at heart.”