Rugby might be a relatively new concept for many Indians but the rural population in the country are slowly picking up the sport and today both men's and women's national rugby team comprises of them.
“It’s just fantastic how sport can uplift those who are not as privileged as the others. That’s an unintended but beautiful, glorious effort of sports," Rahul Bose (Bollywood actor and former Indian national rugby player) said at the Indian Sports Honors Award Ceremony in Mumbai.
India has embraced the sport of Rugby especially at the grassroot level. In a country where cricket reigns supreme with millions of fans following the sport as a religion and football's recent share of craze, rugby's emmense growth tells a magnificent story.
Rugby is a unique sport where athletes can channelise their emotions into positive energy. It has the ability to have a life-changing impact on its players. The powerful impact of this vigorous sport on the lives of the oppressed has had the world take notice.
World Rugby's 2019 data places India at the top of global rankings for having the number of rugby players increased from around 1 lakh in 2016 to 2.1 lakh in 2019. The number of female participants in the sport has also grown by 141% in the same time period. Women rugby is a relatively new concept having been established in 2009 . Today the sport is played in 26 states including over 275 districts of India. Today, there are roughly 80,000 competitive rugby athletes in the country.
“The response to the GIR programme has been overwhelming, especially with respect to age-grade participation from across the country. The growing numbers, particularly in the women’s game, have ensured we establish a structured pathway for these young players to continue to be involved in the game,” says Nasser Hussain, CEO of Rugby India.
This wide reach of the sport has resulted in the inclusion of rural India in the national team. For instance, the women's team comprises of players from the tribal belts of West Bengal and Odisha. Their immense success has even been acknowledged by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in one of his 'Mann Ki Baat' radio talks.
The contribution made by NGOs and institutions like Future Hope and Jungle Crows (in Calcutta), Magician, All Dreams and Ace Foundations (Mumbai), Yellow Streets (Delhi) and the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (Bhubaneswar) have been significant. Their ability to change lives by using rugby as a development tool for youth has been recognised worldwide.