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World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset is anticipating a game-changing 2016 for rugby as the sport looks forward to an action-packed year featuring rugby sevens’ debut at the Olympic Games and continued record participation growth.

Lapasset said: “Undoubtedly, 2015 was an exceptional and record-breaking year for rugby on and off the field with record participation growth and an incredible Rugby World Cup 2015 showcasing the very best of our sport, reaching and inspiring audiences in new and exciting ways.

“Across 48 matches during September and October, a truly global celebration of rugby delivered the most compelling and competitive tournament to date, attracting record attendances in stadia and reaching and engaging with record broadcast, digital and social audiences in existing and, significantly, new nations worldwide.  

“Off the field, rugby continued to grow at a record pace. Driven by World Rugby’s investment programme and the increasing halo-effect of Olympic inclusion, global participation topped 7.2 million, while an additional one million boys and girls were introduced to the sport via World Rugby’s Get Into Rugby mass-participation programme with major growth experienced in Africa, Asia and the Americas.  

“The year also saw us announce wide-ranging 

historic reform of our governance structures, which will pave the way for wider representation and greater independence within our decision-making structures, leading to a renewed strategic plan in 2016 and within it the blueprint for continued sustainable growth.”
At the centre of an action-packed 2016, the men’s and women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series visit new locations as the world’s top teams and players look to hone form ahead of the Olympic Games, while the global qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan will begin. 
The year will also see World Rugby maintain its committment to prioritising investment in player welfare, anti-doping and development programmes as the sport grows on every front, while the quadrennial law review process will begin closed law trials across domestic competitions with the dual aim of game-simplification and player welfare enhancement. Lapasset said: “If 2015 was a record-breaking year, then 2016 will be game-changing as the Olympic Games provides an exciting opportunity for the world’s top teams to showcase the dynamism and excitement of rugby sevens on sport’s biggest stage. 
“Collectively we have long since embraced the Olympic opportunity, which is a major and exciting catalyst behind record participation growth with governments, National Olympic Committees and educational structures embracing and investing in a sport that has multiple social and performance benefits from the playground to the podium.
“Preparation for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, the first time our showcase event has been staged in Asia, will continue to accelerate in 2016. This is a very exciting time for rugby in Japan following the feats of the national team at Rugby World Cup 2015 and with the venues locked down, the tournament dates set and a new and vibrant tournament logo launched, planning is in great shape as Japan begins its first year as Rugby World Cup host. “The Rugby World Cup 2023 hosting proccess will continue to gather pace this year, featuring four very exciting host candidates. We are delighted with the strong level of hosting interest from unions and governments, which highlights the enormous appeal of Rugby World Cup as a low-risk, high-return economic, social and sporting driver. We look forward to further detailed and exciting dialogue as the process progresses this year. 
“These are unprecedented times for rugby and while we grow throughout 2016 and beyond we must ensure that our sport stays true to its character-building values and continues to promote and protect integrity through good governance and robust anti-doping programmes, with the welfare of players at all levels remaining firmly at the heart of all that we do.”