As Japan prepares to host the 2019 Rugby Union World Cup, the country braces itself for the influx of hundreds of thousands of fans from the 20 nations participating in the finals.

Asia is not renowned for its huge rugby following. The decision to host this year’s RWC in Japan will have been taken with the same hopes for expansion and growth that led to football’s 2002 World Cup taking part in Japan and South Korea. The good news for rugby is that World Rugby’s forward-thinking is sure to pay off for this year’s event, and afterwards, thanks to their ‘Impact Beyond’ programme.

In December 2018, the Impact Beyond legacy programme announced that it had surpassed the one million player mark in the continent of Asia. Bill Beaumont, World Rugby’s Chairman, could not hide his delight, regarding this sign of progress as an “incredible achievement”.

Impact Beyond had previously set its participation target for Rugby in Asia at one million ahead of this year’s tournament. They achieved this goal nine months ago.

The Impact Beyond programme was implemented in 2013, two years before England hosted the 2015 RWC. The mission was to grow the game globally and over the last five years, the bulk of its focus has been on Asia.

This programme was founded with the aim of growing the game worldwide on the back of the RWC tournaments. Impact Beyond is run alongside all major World Rugby events with a focus on various areas such as participation, development, coaching, volunteering and business programmes.

World Rugby came up with quite a smart concept when creating the Impact Beyond programme as it helps to develop knowledge around key business pillars too. This is done so Unions can deal with any participation growth while sustaining working business models for the sport as a whole.

According to Nielsen research, there are 112 million Rugby fans in Asia so the potential for development in that part of the world has one of the highest ceilings you could hope for. Asia is also the continent with the highest population on the planet and is home to 60% of the world’s youth.

Here in Western Europe, we are no strangers to rugby union but there is enormous room for the sport’s advancement on a global scale. For many years, rugby has been dominated by nations such as New Zealand (the mighty All Blacks), South Africa, Australia and England.

It may take many more years for any powershift to happen but, along with South American nations like Argentina, Japan might just play their part in such a revolution. The Brave Blossoms inflicted the greatest upset in the history of the RWC when they defeated South Africa 34-32 in Brighton.

Unfortunately, even after winning three of their four pool games, the Japanese team was eliminated, with Scotland and South Africa progressing to the knockout stages. The wheels had been set in motion, however. A nation was falling in love with the sport, if not for the first time then all over again.

World Rugby has acknowledged that South American, North American, African and Asian interest levels in the sport are growing rapidly year-on-year. Japan 2019 will be looking to capitalise on that enthusiasm.

It is the first time the RWC will be hosted in Asia and World Rugby is well aware of the size of this opportunity they have been presented with to grow the sport in the region.

The chance to influence and inspire millions of potential new rugby union fans across the world’s highest populated and most youthful continent was one of the deciding factors behind the sport’s decision to hold RWC 2019 in Asia.

Thanks to the Impact Beyond programme, along with Japan’s proud showing at the 2015 RWC, this bold decision may be about to pay off in the best possible way for the World Rugby organisation.

On this side of the world, we will all be tuning. World Rugby will be hoping the Asian population maintains its interest far beyond 2019. This could be the dawn of something wonderful for the sport of rugby.