International Rugby Board (IRB) chief executive Brett Gosper has called for greater promotion of rugby union in Japan as the country prepares to host the 2019 World Cup.
An IRB delegation is week visiting Japan to assess preparations, following the decision to award its showpiece event to the country in 2009. Gosper expects the tournament to awaken the “sleeping giant” of Japan and act as a similar catalyst as the country’s co-hosting of the 2002 Fifa World Cup did for football.
“Football wasn't that big before then but it (the 2002 World Cup) really woke people up,” Gosper said, according to the Reuters news agency. “Our research shows the Japanese love big events and that they turn up more than others to get a sense of the event. And I am sure it's possible to do that again with rugby.”
However, he added: “We need to expose the sport more. We want free-to-air exposure and we are working with broadcasters towards that. We need to increase the awareness of people in Japan that this is a Rugby World Cup host country.”
Gosper admitted it was a “bold decision” to award the World Cup to Japan, where the domestic league attracts low attendances. However, he remains confident of a reversal in fortunes for the sport. “Japan is a rugby nation and while it is true the crowds are not what they once were, and a long way off what you need for a Rugby World Cup, there is a good knowledge and image of the sport here,” he said. “I believe it is a sleeping giant that needs to wake up, and I think an event like the Rugby World Cup can wake up that latent interest.”