After endless lobbying and 85 years of exclusion, rugby will finally return to the Olympics.
On Oct. 9, the International Olympic Committee ratified the executive board’s recommendation to add rugby sevens to the 2016 Olympic program in Rio de Janeiro.
Rugby sevens is not the traditional 15 players per side that some Canadians may have witnessed or played in high school. Rather, it has only seven players per side and is played in seven-minute halves. Thus: rugby sevens.
The game is played on a field the same size of normal rugby, providing a lot more space for the players to create offensive chances.
Rugby sevens breeds the most fit and physical players and tests speed, power, endurance and skill.
Olympic inclusion has been sought for rugby sevens for a number of years. In 2005, when London was awarded the 2012 summer games, baseball and softball were dropped from the Olympic program and in turn opened up two vacancies for new sports. Rugby along with golf, squash, karate and roller sports were all vying to fill these two spots, although in the end no new sport was added. One of the reasons for rugby’s exclusion was the lack of a women’s competition.
After the failure in 2005, the International Rugby Board took aggressive steps to ensure inclusion for the next summer Olympic Games. The IRB invested money to further develop the women’s game, which culminated in a very successful Rugby Sevens World Cup in Dubai last March and featured a coinciding men’s and women’s tournament. Two members of the IOC’s executive board on hand to take in the event were impressed.
Needing only a majority of the vote rugby received a resounding endorsement from the IOC members with the vote 81-8 in favour of rugby’s re-introduction into the Olympics. Golf’s bid of inclusion, backed by Tiger Woods’ declaration that he would compete, was also ratified with a vote of 63-27.
Although the next summer Olympics will be hosted by London in 2012, rugby and golf fans will have to wait for the 2016 Olympics to watch their favourite sports performed on the world’s greatest stage.
Although rugby games are shorter, rugby sevens is played in a tournament-style format and held over two or three days with each team playing a few games per day. These tournaments are very colourful, festive and often play host to a party atmosphere.
Quirky costumes are also a staple of rugby sevens fanfare. At New Zealand’s Wellington’s World Sevens Series the Borat swimsuit had to be banned because too many spectators were wearing it.
Some countries, such as China, only provide funding to Olympic sports. And while others are not as exclusive, some still strongly tie funding to Olympic sports, such as the United States. In Russia only Olympic sports are allowed to be on the curriculum taught in schools.
The inclusion of rugby sevens into the Olympics is a huge boost for the international rugby community. It opens up government funding to the sport that it has never had. This will undoubtedly contribute to the global growth and popularity of the sport and also increase playing numbers and competitiveness.
graphic Matthew Stefanson