Rugby thrived in several of Britain’s former colonies, including Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Britain also successfully persuaded Tonga, Fiji, and Samoa to join the rugby family. Based on Britain’s success in converting its former subjects to rugby, you’d think India would be a rugby-crazed nation, yet the sport is practically non-existent in the world’s most populous country.
Why Is Rugby Not Popular In India?
Rugby is not popular in India since the British ruling class forbade Indians from participating in or even watching rugby matches. Rugby, like polo, was a sport for the ruling class. Rugby was never popular in India due to British elitism, the scorching temperature, and a lack of grass.
Unlike cricket, the British kept rugby out of the indigenous Indians’ sight and consciousness. Not only were Indians barred from joining rugby clubs, but they were also barred from attending games.
Rugby has traditionally been linked with the upper crust in England, having originated and prospered at the country’s top private schools. Foreigners and the working class were seen as a threat to the ruling classes’ game. In England, it was more difficult to legally deny fellow citizens the ability to play rugby, but in India, it was much easier to just prohibit Indians from participating in the sport.
Because Indians were not permitted to play rugby during British rule, they never developed an interest in the sport. As a result, when the British left India, their tiny rugby clubs went as well, and the game practically vanished overnight.
The Calcutta Club, one of India’s largest rugby clubs, was created in 1873 following the victorious match between England and Scotland Calcutta in 1872. The game had piqued the interest of many British residents in India, and the Calcutta Club was formed to capitalize on the enthusiasm.
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Unfortunately, the club didn’t endure long as they declared that the free bar would have to close, causing a major exodus of members. The club was terminated because there were not enough members to keep it operating.
G.A.J. Rothney, the secretary of the Calcutta Club, took the unusual step of ensuring the club’s name was preserved. He took the club’s cash, which was stored in silver rupees, out of the bank. In 1878, Rothney had the 270 rupees melted down and turned into a cup, which he presented to the Rugby Football Union of England on the condition that it be contested annually. The Calcutta Cup is still played today between Scotland and England.
Rugby never took off in India for a variety of reasons, including British arrogance. The weather had a significant impact as well. The fall in membership was attributed in part to India’s heat and humidity, according to Rothney, the head of the Calcutta Club.
Only the most dedicated rugby players were ready to sprint around a dust bowl pitch for 80 minutes in the scorching Indian heat, wearing heavy sweaters and long socks. Tennis and polo were significantly more pleasurable to British colonialists than rugby.
Many rugby matches were played late at night or early in the morning in order to avoid the heat. Only the most dedicated rugby fans were ready to disrupt their schedules for the sport at this inconvenient hour, limiting the number of players and spectators.
Despite the fact that rugby is not very popular in India, the country nevertheless boasts a good number of registered players, with over 57,000. This isn’t far behind Italy, which has about 80,000 people. It is, however, a far cry from the 340,000 registered players in England.
Rugby appears to be gaining traction in India, with an increasing number of young people taking up the sport. Rugby was just established as a school sport in India, and this trend is expected to continue.
“A majority of the players are school students,” stated Nasser Hussain, general manager of Rugby India. It was adopted last year in the School Games Federation Of India (SGFI), with which 90 to 95 percent of the country’s schools are registered.’ With only 96 clubs in India, they have a long way to go if they want the sport to become popular among the general public.
Rugby was never as popular in India as it was in other British colonies because the English ruling elite kept the game strictly divided. They would not allow Indians to participate in or even watch rugby matches. As a result, when the British left India, rugby followed.
Another issue contributing to rugby’s lack of popularity in India was the unfavorable environment, which meant that few British colonialists, let alone local Indians, were interested in playing rugby. The hard environment was a major factor in the collapse of the Calcutta Rugby Club, which resulted in the depletion of the club’s endowment and the subsequent establishment of the Calcutta Cup, which was contested by England and Scotland.