Rugby New York’s Will Tucker takes a lineout in the second half against the Seattle Seawolves during the Major League Rugby Championship at Red Bull Arena on June 25 in Harrison, NJ.getty images

While everyone is talking about sports betting, crypto crashes, NFTs, fantasy sports leagues, zoom fatigue and all things digital, we wanted to bring readers back to an exciting development that is just beginning to stir up traditional sports.

You remember those old-fashioned, on-the-ground skirmishes between human beings, right? Before colorful skin-clad avatars decided everything?

We’ve written columns on “what to watch” before (remember our misguided endorsement of American football in India?). Thankfully, most of our futuristic pieces have been accurate, including the rise of esports, a growing NHL and, wait for it… Formula 1.

However, this column is a little different, as we’re talking about a sport way down the list in North America, and one that was best classified as nothing more than a decade ago.

What “code” are we talking about? I’m glad you asked. It’s rugby.

Or more specifically, rugby union, the game “played in heaven” (at least according to our friends from the British Commonwealth).

This is fair. The game was invented at the School of Rugby in England and was recently perfected by countries (in different styles) such as South Africa, France, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

The game that Peter Kenneth Nduati pointed out on Quora can be played by anyone, as it has “positions for short and strong, tall and thin, heavy set, strong, agile, jumper, sprinter” . Furthermore, “the whole team defends and also attacks, [plus] anyone can score.”

Like soccer (soccer) benefiting from the United States hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup in North America in 1994 (and soon), World Rugby—the international federation responsible for the sport globally—wants America to step up the game. Thus, it was announced in May that the men’s World Cup will be held in the USA in 2031, with the women’s World Cup following just two years later.

This strategic decision by World Rugby (a council that plans to make a significant investment in the US rugby ecosystem) should elevate the game beyond what many expected, while giving a much-needed boost to Major League Rugby, 13 teams, with two countries. Dallas-based competition.

First, unlike its cousin – NFL football – rugby has a vibrant and growing women’s game, with that version leading to formalization, growth and global expansion. Add to this Rugby Sevens, the fewer-player (but faster, more open) version of the game that experienced considerable success in its early days as an Olympic sport.

Second, like its cousin the NFL, North Americans seem to really like rugby. This version of football features hard (but controlled/limited) contact, is full of passing, kicking and genetically gifted athletes, and is team-focused, so on some days, the game is more like a twin than a cousin.

Third, given America’s late adoption of the game, the US is not a global giant, meaning that achievement will not come easily, and whatever the US eventually “wins” will have been earned, not given. In a counterintuitive way, this reality may cause a new generation of North Americans to view the game as youthful or contemporary rather than traditional/old as they increasingly view baseball.

Perhaps best of all (and deliberately revisiting point #2 above) the growth of the women’s XV (15 players on the starting roster) creates another women’s team sport and provides high schools and colleges with efficient expanded opportunities to balance funding historically placed behind men on a gridiron.

Translation: Rugby represents a massive opportunity for Title IX proponents to support women in all sports, but especially soccer.

It is also an opportunity for the IOC/Olympics to expand beyond Sevens and bring rugby to the Brisbane 2032 Summer Games. Australians love rugby and the sport was contested four times at the Olympic Games (1900, 1908, 1920, 1924) with gold medals of won by France, Australasia (players from Australia and New Zealand) and twice by the United States.

Perhaps even more interesting to ponder is how quickly technology will advance in the next Decade of Rugby. Building a professional American league from the ground up (riding the wave of nationalistic promotion) allows rugby to use the latest technology to shape its success. Already, in countries like Australia, the British company Sportable Technologies is experimenting with chips embedded in the game balls. This data will give rugby fans countless statistics to think about and bet on.

By the time we get to 2031 and 2033, the analytics capabilities for measuring performance should be staggering … as we get into 6G streaming, near-virtual reality, holographic enhancements, and artificial intelligence (all in early stages of development ).

For all of the above, we say North American sports practitioners should join the fray and stay on the sidelines while the real estate of the rugby ecosystem is up for grabs.

Rick Burton is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University. Norm O’Reilly is dean of the University of Maine Graduate School of Business. Their newest book, “Business the NHL Way: Lessons from the Fastest Game on Ice,” will be published by the University of Toronto Press in early October.

Questions about OPED guidelines or letters to the editor? Email editor Jake Kyler at [email protected]

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