Special Report, by Tom Benthall
Rugby sevens will feature in the Olympic Games for the first time in Rio, nearly a century after the 15-man code was last included in the programme.
The Games incorporated the full 15-a-side format of rugby four times between 1900 and 1924, however it was dropped from the schedule due to a distinct lack of enthusiasm from rugby playing nations. This saw just three sides compete in 1900 and 1924, and just two in 1908 and 1920.
However the IOC voted unanimously in 2009 to re-introduce the sport to the Olympics for both men and women in Rio, albeit in the seven-a-side format. Golf is also returning (after a 112 year absence) along with kitesurfing, which will feature for the first time having replaced windsurfing.
With the 17-day event set to feature 206 countries, totalling around 10,500 athletes, the Olympics are certainly an opportunity to continue to build rugby’s profile throughout the world, something New Zealand captain Scott Curry is keen to embrace.
“It is huge for rugby sevens to be part of the Olympic Games,” he told the Rio 2016 website.
“It shows how much our game is growing on an international level and it gives some smaller nations a real chance of coming away with a medal.
“Plenty of my friends are planning to head over for a once in a lifetime experience and I’m sure the people of Brazil will put on an impressive show.”
While the opening ceremony of the Games takes place at Brazil’s national football stadium the Maracanã on August 5 – the first time in Olympic history that the ceremony will not take place in the athletics stadium – the sevens competition is set to start the following day at the Deodoro Sports Complex.
Despite sevens events usually running across just a single weekend, the 12 competing nations at the Olympics (11 who have qualified plus the hosts Brazil), will vie for gold over six days, a schedule World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset is delighted to have established.
“We have worked in close partnership with the IOC, the Rio Organising Committee and other stakeholders to ensure that we have the best possible schedule for our players, which allows them to perform to the best of their abilities as they compete to be the first rugby medalists at the Olympic Games in 92 years,” he said.
“We believe Rio will love sevens and we look forward to hosting fans in a vibrant arena at the very heart of the Deodoro complex.”
By the numbers:
Each squad is limited to 12 players, with stars of the 15-a-side game including Sonny Bill Williams and Quade Cooper hoping to be included for New Zealand and Australia respectively.
11 of the 12 spots in both the men’s and women’s competitions have been confirmed.
Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand, Great Britain (England), Argentina, USA, France, Japan, Australia, Kenya and hosts Brazil have already qualified for the men’s competition.
New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Great Britain (England), Colombia, USA, France, Fiji, Japan and hosts Brazil have already qualified for the women’s competition.
16 men’s teams, including Hong Kong, Mexico and Spain, will compete for the final spot in a qualifying tournament in Monaco in June.
16 women’s teams, including Trinidad and Tobago, Kazakhstan and Venezuela will compete for the final spot in a qualifying spot in Dublin, also in June.
The Deodoro stadium – where the matches will take place – has a 15 000 capacity, and will also host the modern pentathlon.
Rio stats pack:
The 2016 Olympics will be the first ever games to be held in South America, leaving Africa as the only continent not to have hosted them (barring Antarctica).
Rio de Janeiro fought off competition from three other cities – Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago – to win the right to host the 2016 Olympics.
Contrary to popular belief, Rio de Janeiro is not the capital city of Brazil. It was removed as the capital in 1960 and replaced with Brasilia.
The city is creating 43 miles of new roads and 250 square miles of new pavement as part of the regeneration of the city prior to the Olympics.