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More Than 2 Million U.S. Kids Play Rugby? Who Knew?

19 Oct, 2016

By: Michael Popke

Rugby, ironically one of the few tackling sports in which players wear no padding and no helmets, is gaining popularity in the United States faster than football.

According to sports business analyst and Inc.com columnist Mandy Antoniacci, more than 2.1 million kids in the United States play the sport that made a long-time-coming appearance  at August’s Summer Olympics in Rio. (Other sources cite lower numbers, estimating a total of 1.2 million people play rugby in the United States.)

The 2015 Trends in U.S. Team Sports Report from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association indicated a rugby participation increase of more than 100 percent among kids ages 6 to 17 between 2009 and 2014.

CNN.com reports that rugby was first played in the United States in 1874. Then, in 1920 and 1924, Team USA won back-to-back Olympic gold medals. But the 15-man format has given way to the seven-a-side version of the game, which is the one that was played at the Rio Games.

Two years ago this month, a match between New Zealand’s All Blacks (the top rugby team in the world) and the USA Eagles in Chicago resulted in a sold-out Soldier Field. Plus, with the successful launch this year of PRO Rugby North America — the first U.S. professional rugby league — expansion rumors abound, including talk about adding teams from other continents.

“We recognize the significant contribution that PRO has given rugby in the USA, and we are 100 percent committed to working together to support the league’s continued growth,” says USA Rugby CEO Dan Payne. “This includes the manner in which we would evaluate if and how any outside competition interested in entering our country might impact those efforts.”

Women’s rugby and college rugby also are scoring points with players and fans.

A possible reason for the growth of rugby could be the tackle style, as well as the fact that head-to-head contact is rare in the sport. And with more parents keeping kids out of football, it's likely that the sport will continue to gain ground.

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