Rugby at the Olympics

Date published: August 31 2016

Rugby Is Back In The Olympics: Rugby Sevens In Rio 2016 And Tokyo 2020

For the first time in almost a century, the game of rugby was part of the Olympic schedule during the 2016 Rio Games. The last time it appeared, under traditional rugby union rules, was way back in 1924. The United States clinched the gold medal that year, while France and Romania were second and third respectively. After this contest, rugby did not appear in any form at the Games until this year, when the rugby sevens variant made its Olympic debut.

Why has rugby not been an Olympic sport until now?

Since the modern Olympics began in 1896, rugby union has featured just four times: all of which were within the first seven Games. After fan violence and poor behaviour during the 1924 final, the game was dropped and never returned to the schedule – despite requests from various nations, including the Soviet Union and South Korea. Rugby sevens was nearly added to the Olympic program in 2012, but it lost out as squash and karate were favoured instead.

Rugby sevens in Rio: a surprise victory and a first gold medal

This seven-person game with seven minute halves is proving extremely popular with international competitors. Rugby sevens is now played across five of the world’s continents, from Canada to the Netherlands and from Hong Kong to Argentina. The fast and furious game is also popular with men and women, and there are numerous international leagues with thousands of fans worldwide. This all makes rugby sevens the ideal choice for the Olympic schedule, and it was very much welcomed in Rio this year. A survey by found that 8% of Olympics viewers were looking forward to the rugby over all other events.

As top global performers and huge fan favourites, Fiji were hotly tipped to take home a gold medal this year. They did not disappoint! The final result was 43-7 to Fiji against eventual silver medallists Great Britain. Bronze went to South Africa, who beat Japan in an exciting third place play-off. The gold medal was not just Fiji’s first top prize, but their first Olympic medal ever. New Zealand surprised many by getting knocked out at the quarter-finals, although an unlucky draw with winners Fiji certainly counted against them on the day.

Rugby in Tokyo and beyond: the future of the sport in the Olympic Games

What is rugby’s Olympic future? For now at least, the game is staying on the program. When the Games heads to Japan in four years’ time, the country’s Olympic authority have already confirmed that rugby sevens will be played once again. Beyond this, things are uncertain – but if Tokyo 2020 can deliver sevens matches which are as exciting as we saw in Rio, we can perhaps expect to see the sport as a regular Olympic fixture in coming years. Watch this space for further developments on rugby’s place in the Games, and for news on the upcoming 2020 qualifying heats.