Can rugby match soccer’s popularity? – CNBC

Rugby has the potential to rival soccer as an international sport as it returns to the Olympics this year for the first time since 1924, according to a new HSBC report.

By 2026, HSBC predicts the number of global rugby players to hit 15 million, nearly double the current 7.6 million, as 150 countries embrace the rough-and-tumble sport.

While that’s still well off the global reach of football, or soccer, which boasts 270 million active players, according to The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), rugby’s penetration into new markets could make it a viable contender to the beautiful game, HSBC said.

The bank has been a long-time sponsor of the World Rugby Sevens Series, which descends upon Hong Kong this weekend.

Noticeably, HSBC predicts women will represent 40 percent of worldwide rugby players by 2026.

25-30 percent of the 7.6 million global players are already women, Brett Gosper, chief executive of World Rugby, the sport’s international governing body, told CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Friday.