Rugby has been growing in popularity in India and its new sponsorship deal with the Odisha government could play a key role in taking it to the next level.
Rugby in India has been taking some positive steps in the past couple of years.
The women’s Indian rugby team played its first international 15s match in 2018 at the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship and won its first match against Singapore in the same tournament a year later.
The men’s Indian rugby team won silver in the Division 3 Asia Rugby Championships in 2019.
India also earned the top rank in World Rugby’s ‘Get Into Rugby’ initiative last year, edging out Japan, which hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2019, and South Africa, who are traditional rugby powerhouses.
And now, Indian rugby can look forward to good times in the next few years after the Government of Odisha were announced as the new sponsors of the Indian national rugby teams until 2023.
“This is a significant partnership for us. In recent years, we have seen a steady rise of rugby in terms of popularity and participation, particularly the participation of young players,” said Odisha Sports Minister Tusharkanti Behera.
“This partnership between the Government of Odisha and Rugby India will not only help develop the sport of rugby further in Odisha and India but also support and strengthen the high-performance training of the Indian national rugby teams.”
This latest development comes hot on the heels of the news that India will soon have its first dedicated rugby field constructed in Srinagar.
The announcement is a big step forward for Indian rugby given the Odisha government’s success with promoting multiple sports in India.
In 2018, the Odisha government became the sponsors for the Indian hockey team, giving them the state-of-the-art Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar, where India play their home matches.
The Odisha government also lent its support to the football club Odisha FC, which was formed in 2019 and now plays in the Indian Super League, the top tier of Indian football.
“This is a huge step taken by a state government towards a sport that is just picking up (in India),” Indian women’s team captain Vahbiz Bharucha told the Olympic Channel.
“Getting the proper infrastructure and a centre for high-performance training could be a great marker for the rugby players who are part of the international set-up.”
Bollywood actor Rahul Bose, who has played rugby for India, felt that the sponsorship could pave a bright path for the sport in the country.
“This is a historic day for Indian rugby. Thanks to this sponsorship from the Government of Odisha, national rugby players will, for the first time ever, be paid for their services to the Indian rugby teams,” said Bose.
“This marks a first, solid step towards making rugby a professional sport in the country.”