Rugby World Cup: Players advised to cover up tattoos while in Japan

Israel Folau is one of a number of leading rugby players to have prominent tattoos. Dan Mullan/Getty Images

World Rugby have advised players, coaches and fans who are attending the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year to cover up their tattoos to avoid being mistaken as part of the Japanese mafia.

In Japan, tattoos and other body markings are viewed negatively and are often associated with the Yakuza, a criminal gang whose members are identified by full-body designs.

With this in mind, many spas and swimming pools have strict rules on foreign tourists displaying tattoos in public and World Rugby's tournament director Alan Glipin says players will be encouraged to wear rash-vests or wet-suits instead.

The advice comes as part of the organisation's cultural awareness programme, which will continue to work with the players in the build-up to the tournament.

"We will make [Japanese] people aware around the facilities that players will use in the country that people with tattoos in a Rugby World Cup context are not part of the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia," Gilpin told The Telegraph.

"That's where the issue comes from. We have done a lot in the last year or so with the teams to get them to understand that.

"When we raised it with the teams a year or so ago we were probably expecting a frustrated reaction from them but there hasn't been at all. That is a great tribute to the sport itself and to the rugby players themselves.

"They all also buy into the idea of putting on a rash-vest in the pool or in a gym as they want to respect the Japanese culture. If they are using a public pool they will have to cover up.

"Players will also have to wear different trainers indoors and outdoors. It will all be self-policing. We won't force any teams to cover up but they will want to because they want to be seen to be respecting the culture."

New Zealand Rugby chief rugby officer Nigel Cass has confirmed that the country will respect the Japanese culture while in Japan. Several All Blacks such as Sonny Bill Williams, Codie Taylor and Aaron Smith have large sleeve tattoos, as do Australia's Israel Folau and England's Jack Nowell.