When the FIFA World Cup came to the United States in 1994, there was a lot of skepticism. Can the sport in which unknown alien stars played low-scoring games capture the imagination of American fans? As it turned out, the answer was yes: the World Cup helped kick-start the football boom in the United States and open up a valuable new market for global sports.
That’s far from over, but rugby officials are hoping for something similar after the United States handed over the 2031 Men’s and 2033 Women’s Rugby World Cups on Thursday.
The first U.S. tournament will be the first Rugby World Cup to be held in the Western Hemisphere. (The women’s event was held in Canada in 2006.)
Because rugby access is geographically more limited – only a few countries play it at the elite level and only four have won its biggest championship – the Rugby World Cup cannot reach the heights of spectators enjoying the World Cup and the Olympics. But the men’s event is one of the few international competitions that can claim to be the third largest sporting event in the world.
The United States was awarded the World Cup among the five that finished Thursday. All the championships that will take place before the event arrives in America have been handed over to the traditional forces: France in 2023 and Australia in 2027 for men and New Zealand in 2022, England in 2025 and Australia in 2029 for women. The World Cups in England and Australia were also announced on Thursday.
And although the men of the United States played in previous editions of the tournament, they are usually opposed to the main forces of rugby. The Americans have qualified for the last six World Cups, but have only a 2-21 record. In the team’s last international match, in October, he lost to three-time World Cup champions New Zealand 104-14.
The U.S. women’s team played better on the field, winning its first World Cup in 1991 and finishing fourth in its most recent tournament in 2017.
Yet rugby has always tried to find a foothold in the crowded American sports landscape, which was already loaded with professional and college games in sports that are much more familiar to American fans. International events are gaining more and more interest from these fans, but football games and Formula 1 racing are a few steps ahead of rugby.
Cricket officials, with their own eyes on the big and lucrative American market, have taken a similar step and named the US co-host of the 2024 Twenty20 Men’s World Cup with West India.