Shaping an exciting, relevant and accessible sport for all over the next decade was the key theme from the second World Rugby Shape of the Game Conference in London on Thursday.
Building on the success of the inaugural meeting in November 2022 which resulted in new law directives aimed at enhancing the speed and flow of the game, the sequel challenged leading figures in the sport - players, coaches, match officials, medics, competition owners and fan-engagement experts – to think big and think long-term as rugby looks to grow its audience share over the next decade on the road to Rugby World Cups in the USA.
The action-oriented forum brought together the men’s and women’s games to consider moves that could be implemented across three key areas – fan experience, player experience and wellbeing.
The forum considered feedback from leading social and digital platform providers, the wider entertainment industry, broadcasters and fans focusing on how to make the sport more accessible and understandable, while emerging technology was explored from an officiating and welfare perspective.
The group identified key focus areas for World Rugby to explore in collaboration with stakeholders:
- Playing experience: prioritise enhancing game flow through law review and officiating considerations in collaboration with teams and match officials, continue to explore a non-contact and modified contact formats, underpinning a sport for all
- Fan experience: explore ways simpler terminology, technology, broadcast and laws innovation can assist the sport reach and engage with new audiences
- Officiating experience: Explore the use of emerging technology as a means of removing subjectivity from some referee decision-making areas
- Welfare: continued focus on smart mouthguards to gather essential player workload data, reflecting individualised approach to injury reduction
- Dedicated women’s approach: Shape of the Game forum to be convened to discuss the advancement of game flow, welfare and fan experience in women’s rugby
- Community Rugby: Continued focus on injury prevention programmes, tackle height and technique and the playing experience benefits
World Rugby will take away the considerations and insights for further exploration and prioritise areas that can be implemented in the short term without changing law, while bringing longer-term actions through to the next law review cycle.
The outcomes build on positive early indicators from the new Law Application Guidelines (directives for match officials, coaches and players), which have driven an increase in ball in play, ruck speed and a reduction in dead time at the elite level of the game, achieving its key goal of speeding up the game. Super Rugby Pacific trials are also ongoing.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “As a sport, a movement and a family, we must always challenge ourselves to think differently if rugby is to excite and attract new audiences and participants across all its forms.
“That means detailed consideration of what fans and players want the future of our sport to be, a future where more people want to play and support the game, where injury risk is reducing and where all involved in the game have their say.
“The Shape of the Game II meeting is a key step to a reimagination of our sport. The contributions from a wide spectrum of disciplines gives us a clear mandate to progress. I would like to thank all participants for taking time out at a busy time to unite, collaborate and consider our future.”
Participants (all representatives from World Rugby’s Professional Game, Women’s, Community and Professional Leagues Committees): International Rugby Players, International Rugby Match Officials, National Unions, Six Nations, SANZAAR, EPCR, URC, Premiership Rugby, LNR.