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Parents' fears lead to decline in junior rugby
ESPN Staff
July 14, 2014
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A report by the New Zealand board shows that participation in rugby at junior levels continues to show a small decline, with football the main beneficiary.

While rugby at the youngest levels thrive, once players reach their teenage years and the risk of injury grows along with their size, they are less likely to continue playing. In 2010 there were 44,000 aged between 13 and 18 playing, a number which has dropped to 41,800. In the same period those involved in football grew 10%.

Clive Pope, associate professor at Waikato University's sport and leisure studies department, told the New Zealand Herald the trend had been apparent for years. "This is partially to do with there being more choice on what people play, and partially due to concern about injury," he said. "[Rugby] needs to identify the public's needs and wants and to work out how to make sure the game is aligned with these."

Research shows that parents are playing a significant part in decisions to drop the sport, with the perception that it can result in serious injury the main influencing factor. The paper quotes one administrator as saying that "80% of the mothers voice concern about whether or not their kids will be safe on the field".

The NZRU board is conscious of the public image and its general manager of community and provincial rugby, Brent Anderson, told the paper that safety was of utmost importance. But he said he doubted rugby would lose its position as the country's No.1 sport.

"At club and school level, the infrastructure is incredibly strong. Football is growing in strength in urban areas, especially at secondary level but rugby is everywhere, in the cities, in the towns, in the country. It's been strong since the days of the ark."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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