Bill Beaumont has hailed 2017 a milestone year for global rugby, having successfully delivered significant initiatives and reform in his first full year as World Rugby Chairman, laying the foundations for a stronger, more dynamic global game.

At the heart of a year that saw further record participation, fan and commercial growth, Beaumont’s leadership was instrumental in implementing transformational eligibility and governance reform for the betterment of all.

Driving forward the international federation’s mission to grow the global rugby family, Beaumont championed collaboration between World Rugby, its regions and national unions to deliver a record participation increase of more than 500,000 during the year, led by emerging rugby nations.

With a focus on making the sport accessible for all, World Rugby’s Get Into Rugby mass participation programme is on track to attract and retain two million youth participants by the end of this year, sowing the seeds for a strong community game.

In addition to record participation increases, Beaumont and Vice-Chairman Agustín Pichot wasted no time in 2018 in settling the global calendar debate with a 2020-32 calendar that will further the strength and sustainability of the international game, while historic eligibility reform will protect its integrity.

Beaumont said: “As Chairman of World Rugby and a rugby man through and through, I am committed to building a stronger, better and even more accessible global game for all and 2017 has certainly seen important advances for the game on and off the field.

“We have seen record participation growth to more than nine million worldwide, led by emerging rugby markets such as India, Brazil, Mexico, Germany and China, thanks to the visibility of our major events and strength of our development programmes, run in partnership with unions.

“What’s more, we are on track to attract a record number of girls and boys through our Get Into Rugby programme, demonstrating the sport’s youth appeal at a time of unprecedented sport and entertainment choice for young people.

“Supporting this growth is a strong and dynamic administration framework through World Rugby, the regions and unions. I am proud to have delivered a new, equitable 2020-32 global competition calendar that delivers a 40 per cent increase in tier one v tier two fixtures and commercial certainty for all, eligibility reform that protects the integrity of international rugby and governance reform that will enhance gender balance within our Council, along with the newly-approved 2017-25 Women’s Plan.

“Our competitions are also going from strength to strength, with an outstanding and game-changing Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 in Ireland, our sevens players competing in record-breaking men’s and women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and a raft of development and high-performance tournaments providing a pathway for the future stars of the game as we accelerate towards Rugby World Cup 2019.

“Preparation for Asia’s first Rugby World Cup continues at pace and we are all committed to converting the opportunity to grow the sport within the world’s most populous continent as tickets go on sale in 2018. We also saw the Rugby World Cup 2023 hosting rights awarded to France, and we are excited about their plans to deliver a truly special event for teams, fans and the sport.

“I would like to thank the global rugby family – players, fans, coaches, referees, administrators and volunteers – for their passion, commitment and playing a significant role in making 2017 such a special, memorable and successful year.”

The new year will bring new opportunities and challenges, but Beaumont is confident that the sport is perfectly placed to convert growth opportunities in emerging markets such as China, Brazil and Germany, while continuing to ensure the best-possible welfare standards for players at all levels.

Looking ahead Beaumont continued: “We are determined to build on 2018 to ensure that rugby remains attractive and relevant for players and fans, while ensuring the highest-possible standards of welfare for players at all levels and delivering strong and sustainable growth through targeted investment programmes and successful competitions.

“Anticipation and excitement is growing ahead of Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco in July, which looks set to capture the imagination in the US. We are also entering an important year for Rugby World Cup 2019 with the launch of the ticketing programme, the most accessible in recent Rugby World Cup history.”

Driven by the growing commercial strength of Rugby World Cup, World Rugby is investing record sums into the development of the sport worldwide. Investment continues in line with targets and an overall programme of £266 million is anticipated to be invested between 2016 and 2019, eclipsing the record for the previous four-year cycle by 38 per cent, reflecting a commitment to supporting sustainable growth.

This significant commitment will support development and high-performance programmes and enable World Rugby to continue delivering world-class training and education to sustain participation growth. Importantly, it will also support the federation’s continued commitment to driving player-welfare and anti-doping best-practice.

Beaumont added: “We will continue to protect players at all levels by furthering our commitment to injury-prevention. We have made excellent player welfare progress, particularly in the priority area of concussion, but we are not complacent; we must ensure that rugby continues to be a leader in sport in the prevention and management of injury and we will be launching a new injury-prevention strategy in 2018.”

Alongside player welfare, Beaumont’s vision for a strong, sustainable game focuses on enhancing global competition, preserving integrity by furthering the fight against doping and promoting a level playing field for all through strong global education and an intelligent, targeted testing programme, as well as safeguarding the sport from corruption through strong governance and leadership; and optimising commercial partnerships by unlocking the full potential of new and emerging markets.

He concluded: “All of this will be achieved by empowering and strengthening unions through continued strong investment in all levels of the games, from grassroots participation and the retention of players, to strong and vibrant unions driving greater competition at test level.

“We will continue to work hard to ensure that the decisions that we make are for the betterment of the game at all levels across all nations. I look forward to working in partnership with the entire global rugby community in what promises to be an exciting and important 2018 on and off the field.”