• From England and France to Fiji and Swaziland, women's rugby is experiencing an increase (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Women’s rugby numbers are growing at a rapid rate - but how do participation rates stack up in relation to population?
John Birch, Presented by
Erin Byrnes

19 May 2016 - 7:45 AM  UPDATED 19 May 2016 - 7:45 AM

Differences in population figures mean player growth statistics can be deceptive. So in which country is women's rugby most popular, in relation to residents?

The countries at the top of the list are also tend to be the big ones – it’s hardly surprising that England has more players than Ireland when it has a population that is nearly 10 times large.

We tried to take that into account by looking at how many players there were per million women in each country.

Instead of a “players per million” figure we will instead look at a simple ratio – what proportion of the total female population is a registered rugby player. But, it should be noted that the numbers used include both children, and the elderly.  

We are using the latest published figure for the total population of each country and including all ages from children who are too young to play, to women who are too old.

Islands far from deserted

The Pacific Islands do remarkably well for player numbers.

Tonga tops the table (as it didin 2014) with one in eight women and girls registered with the Fijian RFU.

Data for the Cook Islands, despite a population of only 19,100, show why they will be in Dublin for the Olympic qualifier, with one woman or girl in 17 in the islands playing rugby.

The Caribbean makes an appearance at third with St Vincent, the only other country where better than one female in 100 plays rugby. They are one of the smallest countries to play test rugby (only the Cayman Islands is smaller among the test playing nations).

Swaziland - a new powerhouse?

Fourth placed Swaziland is a surprise as the country has yet to play any international rugby at all. The game is growing rapidly, but at present only among schoolchildren (of both sexes). If just a fraction of those children could stay in the game, Africa could have a new team to rival the existing continental powers.

The figures also explain why the island of Guam does so well in Asian rugby – because no-where in Asia is the game more widely played than in Guam.

New Zealand is in sixth place, but it may be a surprise to see Ireland in seventh as the top European country – it seems a strong tradition of women’s team sports allied to on-field success is producing remarkable growth, with Irish women’s rugby growing four times faster than men’s.

Of the major nations, Wales and Australia come next, a similar pair to New Zealand and Ireland with tradition and on-field success combining to encourage better than one in 500 women and girls to play rugby regularly.

South Africa and Scotland are not too far behind.

Fiji set to climb

The most unusual finding is seeing Fiji so low in the table, with less than one women or girl in a 1000 playing rugby - far below most other Pacific nations. But, a look at the experiences of many current Fijian players reveals a conservatism that only recent televised successes have started to overcome. It also shows the enormous potential that Fiji has. With the Fijian Women's Sevens World Series team providing a pathway for young athletes, the growth of rugby among teenage girls has been huge.

England are the first of the“big three” countries, not far behind Fiji and with almost twice the participation rate of France, while the United States and Canada – with almost identical participation rates – lie about midway down the list.

Women’s rugby worldwide participation rates

The top 10: 1 in every… plays rugby

  • Tonga: 1 in 8
  • Cook Islands 1 in 17
  • Vincent & the Grenadines 1 in 74
  • Swaziland 1 in 123
  • Solomon Islands 1 in 125
  • New Zealand 1 in 131
  • Ireland 1 in 155
  • Bermuda 1 in 172
  • Guam 1 in 191
  • Tahiti 1 in 225
  • (at #15) Australia 1 in 449

This article originally published by Scrumqueens. Visit their website for the full listing of participation rates.