Pawtucket Times

U.S. hosting 2033 Rugby World Cup. Will anyone care?

- By PAUL NEWBERRY Associares­s

The United States has landed another World Cup.

Before you start celebratin­g or making travel plans, a couple of caveats:

It’s still more than nine years away.

And, uh, it’s the Rugby World Cup.

The sport that most Americans have only the vaguest of knowledge about — hey, doesn’t it sort of resemble football, just without the pads, helmets or forward passes? — will bring its biggest event to this country in 2031 (along with the women’s version in 2033).

While the Rugby World Cup ranks only behind the Summer Olympics and soccer’s World Cup in some corners of the planet, that’s certainly not its place in the U.S.

Quick, who is the reigning world champion? Where will the next Rugby World Cup be played?

Even with nine years of lead time to develop the game and build up interest, it’s hard to see how rugby ever carves out more than the tiniest of niches in the American sporting scene.

But some folks are ready to take on the challenge.

“Listen, we know in the U.S. there’s a lot of competitio­n for consumer dollars,” said Amanda Windsor White, president of Rugby ATL, Atlanta’s team in the sport’s top U.S. profession­al league. “We have to work a little bit harder from the marketing perspectiv­e to build awareness and give potential fans a reason to come check us out.”

For those who haven’t noticed, Major League Rugby is a 13-team league that was launched in 2018. While the number of teams has nearly doubled during the league’s brief history, it has yet to generate a lot of interest, playing mostly in tiny stadiums before sparse crowds.

But World Rugby, the internatio­nal governing body, is eager to expand its game beyond the traditiona­l hotbeds of South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Ireland, France and the South Pacific islands.

White and others in MLR hope to capitalize on that push. She believes the physical nature of rugby is a natural for American sports enthusiast­s, not to mention the social traditions such as tailgating and players from both teams getting together after matches to raise a few beers.

“We know there are people out there who like to be trendsette­rs,” White said. “Once they’re exposed to it, they’re gonna love it.”

The last World Cup, in 2019, was played in a non-traditiona­l country for the first time. Rising power Japan hosted a tournament that ran into some major problems, from the proposed main stadium in Tokyo not being completed on time to the unpreceden­ted cancellati­on of three matches because of a typhoon.

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