World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont has opened the 13th World Rugby General Assembly in London, praising 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.

During a big year for the sport, rugby participation grew to 8.5 million with emerging markets and female participation leading the way. Despite an ever-evolving media environment, rugby’s fanbase has grown by 28 per cent to 338 million since 2013 according to the latest Neilsen research, again driven by increased female popularity and emerging markets growth.

Reflecting on an historic first 18 months in office, 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 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. Governance reform, eligibility reform, disciplinary process reform and, of course, a new 2020-32 test calendar.

“These are significant advancements for a global sport. This week we will announce the RWC 2023 host union, consider further reform of our governance structures promoting gender balance and a ground-breaking women’s plan – key to our continued growth.

“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 an historic reform of the eligibility criteria under Regulation 8, implemented a new off-field disciplinary process and reformed Regulation 17 and secured agreement on the 2020-32 international calendar, promoting certainty and strength.

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.”