Rugby’s history at the Olympic Games
18 May 1924, Colombes Stadium, Paris: in front of 50,000 predominantly French fans, the USA beat France 17-3 to win the gold medal and claim the coveted Olympic Champion title. Fast forward 92 years to Rio 2016 and the American rugby team are still reigning Olympic Champions without their players ever having to score another try…
5-21 August 2016, Deodoro Stadium, Rio de Janerio: Rugby 7s, the shortened version of the traditional 15-a-side rugby game, makes its debut at the Olympic Games having been voted into the Olympic Programme during the 121st Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2009. Rugby 7s participation at Rio is a significant moment for rugby as a whole; and not just because international rugby players once again have the opportunity to fight for the coveted Olympic Champion titles.
Rugby 7s future following Rio 2016: an opportunity to globalise and commercialise
Rugby, a sport traditionally dominated in the Southern Hemisphere by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and in the Northern Hemisphere by England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy, is now being taught as an Olympic sport in China, the USA and Russia. Rugby is now also one of the fastest-growing team sports in host nation, Brazil: more than 100,000 Brazilian children have been introduced to rugby via the ‘Get Into Rugby’ campaign. Rugby 7s global popularity is boosted by the rapid growth of its women’s game, currently one of the fastest growing team sports in the world.
The globalisation of Rugby 7s has provided the sport with the opportunity to commercialise and to reinvest to grow the game further. The 2015 Sevens World Series (the global rugby 7s tournament) reached 400 million households leading HSBC to extend its title sponsorship deal for another four years.
The Rio 2016 Olympic Games will undoubtedly provide a unique platform for Rugby 7s to reach new audiences and to attract new sponsors from those markets. While it remains to be seen if the USA can defend its Olympic title, it seems certain that the exciting, engaging younger sibling of Rugby 15s is on its way to becoming a truly global competitor.
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