The ARU has moved to ‘strongly reject’ a recent Roy Morgan study that reported rugby participation had dropped 63 per cent since 2001.
The study produced a list of the highest participation sports in Australia (14 years and older), with rugby’s 55,000 on the same plane as ballroom dancing, and well below the other football codes of soccer (623,000), AFL (253,000) and rugby league (127,000).
The ARU issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon, ‘strongly rejecting’ the study’s findings, stating instead that 271, 528 people played more than five games or ‘structured sessions’ of rugby, in competitive and social environments, a 1.5 per cent increase on the previous year.
Club participation is, the ARU figures state, is done 0.8 per cent on top of a 7.6 per cent decline the year before.
The introduction of schools program ‘Game On’ has boosted U6-U11 participation by 3.5 per cent, according to the ARU.
The Roy Morgan results are also at odds with December’s Australian Sports Commission report ‘ AusPlay’, which found that more than 70,000 Australians over 15 played rugby at least once a week, with 117,000 more participating at least once a month and 57,429 children also participating outside of school hours..
The data for that study was collected continuously on a weekly basis over a year.
ARU community and strategy manager Andrew Larratt said there was still work to do, particularly with club rugby, but ‘strongly rejected’ the Roy Morgan figures.
“The Roy Morgan numbers are not supported by any other research and are strongly rejected by the ARU,” he said.
“More people had a rugby experience than ever before in 2016, which is despite a less than one per cent drop in fifteen-a-side rugby participation in our clubs.
“A significant portion of this participation growth came in the key Under 6 to Under 11 age group due to the strong success of the Game On program.
“As has been revealed, the Roy Morgan research was conducted only with persons over the age of 14.
“We acknowledge as a sport that there is much work to be done, particularly in arresting the decline in club fifteens participation.
“We are well advanced in our review of the Australian Rugby Strategic Plan, with a specific focus on this area of the game.
“There is however much evidence to suggest that our participation strategy at the junior level is generating some very encouraging results as we build up grassroots club rugby through growth in junior club rugby.”