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Rugby looks to untapped markets in Asia

Rugby looks to untapped markets in Asia

With rugby sevens accepted into the Olympic program and the World Cup coming to Japan in 2019, Rugby is making serious efforts to move beyond its traditional strongholds.
Saturday's Bledisloe Cup match in Tokyo between the New Zealand All Blacks and Australia's Wallabies will give Japanese fans a chance to see rugby played at the highest level, while further promoting the sport in Asia.
"Having the sport introduced to the Olympics and staging the 2019 World Cup here will be a huge boost for rugby in Japan," said Japan Rugby Football Union president Yoshiro Mori. "The Bledisloe Cup is a great chance for Japanese fans to gain an appreciation for the sport."
Saturday will mark the second time a Bledisloe Cup match will be played outside of Australia or New Zealand, after the neighboring rivals met at Hong Kong last year.
Japan will become the first Asian host of the World Cup in 2019. Part of its plan includes staging matches in Hong Kong and Singapore in an effort to allow other Asian markets to benefit.
The proposal hasn't been approved yet, but Japanese rugby officials will meet with members of Rugby World Cup Limited this weekend to further make its case.
Rugby is popular in Japan at the university level, but support for the professional Top League lags far behind more popular sports like baseball and football.
But while rugby doesn't attract the following of some more mainstream sports, it does attract large corporate sponsorship and can be lucrative for foreign players.
A lot of rugby's potential in Japan will depend on the success of the national team.
The JRFU hired All Blacks great and former Italy coach John Kirwan in 2006 to lead the national team.
Kirwan has said he wants to tap into Japan's "Samurai Spirit" and the team has made steady progress under his guidance. After four losses at the 2003 World Cup in Australia, Japan surprised many at the next edition at France in 2007, losing by just two points to Fiji and posting a draw with Canada.
Meanwhile, the chance to showcase the sport on Saturday is not lost on the All Blacks.
"We want to win the game and will be happy to win it anyway we can," said All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen. "But if we can play some entertaining rugby that will be great."
There were some concerns in Tokyo that tickets for the match have been overpriced. The game, being played at the 50,000-seat Olympic stadium, is not yet sold out. Rugby fans snapped up many of the $200 prime seats, but many of the $70 seats expected to be bought by casual fans remain unsold.
Still, promoting the sport in Asia is not without its cultural clashes.
Members of the All Blacks discovered this week in Tokyo their extensive tattoos were not well received here.
Several players had to wear vests to cover their arms and torsos while swimming in hotel pools as a show of respect to Japanese culture, which frowns upon the displaying of tattoos as they are associated with membership in the yakuza, or Japanese mafia.


Updated : 2021-03-01 17:44 GMT+08:00