Rugby in India: Starved of resources but not short of appetite

Rugby India
In a cricket-crazy nation, very few people discuss rugby, and besides the IRFU, there’s almost none to help it grow. | Image - Eunice Dhivya

The folklore goes that schoolboy William Webb Ellis picked up the ball during a game of football in 1823 and ran with it, introducing the world to a new sport — rugby. Predominantly popular in England, France and New Zealand, the sport has been embraced by Asian countries in the last few decades.

But India, from where the Calcutta Cup — the oldest international rugby trophy in the world played between Scotland and England — emanated, occupies only a microscopic space on the World Rugby map.

What began on Christmas Day in 1872 between 20 English players and 20 players of Scotland, Ireland and Wales seemed to end the very next year as a local British army regiment was sent back to England, which led to discontinuation of the free bar at the club. While many members withdrew, a few decided to stay. They melted the 270 silver coins taken from the club’s funds, made a trophy and presented it to the Rugby Football Union in 1878, on the condition that it should be competed for annually.

Rugby in the post-British era was scarcely popular. But when a passing interest by Indians was noticed, the Indian Rugby Football Union (IRFU) came into being in 1998. Now, IRFU has 24,010 registered players, with 7,160 female, besides 120 rugby clubs.

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