Rugby’s sweep of other sports at the Olympics
Patricio Díaz
June 27, 2024

Rugby had to wait 92 years – and the establishment of rugby sevens – for the Olympics to turn its attention back to it. How could a sport whose World Cup is the third largest sporting event not be in the Olympics? The answer was simple: the complexity of its recovery times made it impossible to offer a tournament in a couple of weeks. Now, in its third Olympic appearance, rugby sevens looks to be one of the most attractive team tournaments, so much so that France’s largest stadium is hosting the competition.

Rugby sevens has already completed the field for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games after the play-off in Monaco, which provided the last quota. 12 teams will be divided into 3 groups of 4 teams -both men’s and women’s-. This will be the third presence of rugby in the history of the Olympic Games (Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020+1). Although, strictly speaking, it already had four previous participations: Paris (1900), London (1908), Antwerp (1920) and Paris (1924). All in the traditional 15-player format.

The great effort and physical recovery time between games made it unfeasible for the limited Olympic times. Thus, the way he found to return to the greatest universal sporting competition after 92 years was to reduce the number of players and the length of the matches, in order to achieve a quick recovery of the players and with the option of adding several clashes per day. Spectators had to become familiar with watching 7 players per team, with 2 halves of 7 minutes each. It added more intensity and a different scoring method. Keeping, of course, all the other basic rules of the game.

THE CASE OF FIYI

The rapid growth of rugby 7’s, boosted by its inclusion in the Olympic Games, the World Cup and the increasingly attractive Seven Series has promoted new players, countries with tradition, but away from the first line of 15’s. The examples are varied, but the most convincing is Fiji, gold in men’s and silver in women’s in the Tokyo games. We are talking about a group of volcanic islands in the South Pacific with almost 900,000 inhabitants, 80,000 of whom play rugby. In other words, 9% of the inhabitants play the sport (by comparison, New Zealand has 3% of its population and Argentina 0.25%). Fiji, with its small population, is sixth in total number of players behind England, the United States, Australia, France and South Africa. This background gives the islanders the patent of candidates for the Paris event.

World Rugby has been a decisive support in the growth of the specialty, with the institution of the World Cup since 1993. This first edition was held in Scotland, and not by chance, since it has its roots there. In its 8 editions, the already outstanding Fiji and New Zealand are at the top of the men’s historical table with 3 titles each, while in the women’s category the New Zealanders and Australia dominate.

SPAIN’S COMMITMENT

This growth goes hand in hand with increased investment and Spain is a good example. Spain is the host country, with an investment of 3 million dollars, to organize the 2022 World Series in Andalusia. The organizers made no secret of their plans: “Our goal is for the country to be a permanent venue for this event”. A year later, Madrid was designated as the venue for the World Rugby Series Grand Final for 3 years, starting with the current 2023-2024 season. Delivering the news, World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said the event will be “a must-see for sports and entertainment fans.”

So it is not surprising that in Paris the sport of the oval is no longer a guest or an experiment, but a reality that a growing number of fans are getting ready to enjoy. The French capital will host, in the men’s competition, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and Japan (group A); Argentina, Australia, Samoa and Kenya (B); Fiji, France, United States and Uruguay (C). It will be played from July 24 to 27. The women, from July 28 to July 30, will be animated by New Zealand, Fiji, Canada and China (group A); Australia, Ireland, Great Britain and South Africa (B); Argentina, Australia, Samoa and Kenya (B); Argentina, Australia, Samoa and Kenya (B). Great Britain and South Africa (B); France, United States, Japan and Brazil (C). The Stade de France in Saint-Denis, the same venue of the 1998 World Cup final, will host a competition that is gradually gaining the attention and support of traditional rugby fans. It will be there, where Didier Deschamps lifted the FIFA Cup 26 years ago, that the new kings and queens of the Olympic oval will show the world their medals. There, on the turf of the Stade de France and under the Paris sky.

Latest News