Sevens must not waste Olympic spotlight

Date published: May 18 2016

As the Olympics edge closer Sevens is not only ready to steal the show in Rio, but to catapult the sport onto a new level of recognition.

That was the message out of HSBC panel in London on Tuesday which included Tom Mitchell, the England Sevens captain, Jason Robinson, a Rugby World Cup winner with England back in 2003, along with double Olympics Gold medallist Daley Thompson and HSBC's Global Head of Sponsorship and Events, Giles Morgan.

An in-depth report, titled The Future of Rugby, has measured both how far Sevens has come and the expected growth to follow heading towards 2026, when total participation in the sport is expected to rise from the current figure of seven million to 15 million, thanks largely down to the rise of Sevens off the back of the next three Olympics Games.

That estimate of course could prove to be redundant, if Sevens fades into the background again outside of the Olympic window as do so many other sports in the Games. 

Groundwork there has been put in place to not only lure in that fraction of the Olympics' television audience who are impressed by Sevens later this year, but to keep them hooked.

"The Olympics inclusion is really interesting because it's not a slam dunk, no pun intended. Just because you get Olympic inclusion doesn't make you a global superstar game," Morgan explained.

"There are lots of sports there that have their moment in the sun every four years, whether it's winter or summer Olympics, but then they go back to just being within themselves.

"We are very keen through the World Series to make Sevens relevant all of the time, through the ten stops of the tour and then with the Olympics every four years.

"There's a lot of work to do, and we need to make the players famous. The skills that exist in Sevens are extraordinary, and it's interesting that those famous players have come over from XVs and found it hard than they imagined.

"Attendances are going up, the social media is through the roof, television audiences are rising and I hope that in 10-15 years time we'll back and see this as the moment that rugby went truly global."

Thompson, who clinched Decathlon gold in 1980 and 1984, predicts that all those players heading off to Rio are in for a shock at the sheer scale of the Games.

Thrilling matches and breakout stars are expected, but Thompson was keen to stress that if the structures aren't in place to build from that then the hard work of those players will be squandered.

"The Olympics and Sevens have a wonderful opportunity. But that opportunity still has to be taken," Thompson said.

"It will be good for the Olympics because it has a young, mixed audience, and it allows the smaller nations to beat up on the sporting superpowers.

"The players are going to have such a shock. The Rugby World Cup we've just had was watched be tens of millions of people – the Olympics is measured in the hundreds of millions. As a sporting event, it's hundreds of times bigger. 

"If World Rugby and the sponsors aren't ready then what will happen is the players will be unbelievable, and the stage will be set. But if the administrators aren't ready to push it on, then it will be wasted."

HSBC's 'The Future of Rugby' report can be downloaded here.

by Ben Coles