Rugby Union was played at Olympic level between 1900 and 1924, at which stage it was dropped from the line-up. This year sees Rugby Sevens appear on the Olympic stage – So what is Rugby Sevens and what does it take to be an Olympic sport?
Flexibility in the line-up for the Olympics reflects societal change and diversity over the ages. Sports go in and out of fashion over time. The rugby played in the Olympic Games back at the turn of the century was the traditional 15 player game. The game included today in the battle for medals is the newer faster and shorter version. This shorter version currently being celebrated by Olympic viewers originated as a fund-raiser in Scotland back in 1883. From there it spread, firstly south of the Scottish borders and then globally.
Rugby sevens is administered by World Rugby and is played internationally with the World Rugby Seven Series running annually.
Rugby Sevens is a variant of rugby union and has only seven players on each team. There are only five subs and substitutions are limited to five. The match is played in two halves of seven minutes each with only a one-two minute half-time break. The entire structure of the game is designed to keep it fast paced and free-flowing. Played by both men and women this design means that entire tournaments can be played in a matter of days as is the case in Rio.
The International Olympic Committee are the body responsible for deciding the fate of a sport that chooses to apply for Olympic inclusion. The journey is a long and complicated one.
Initially the sport has to be recognised as a sport by the IOC. Then the IOC require that the sport be governed by an international body. That body then has to apply many codes and rules set out by the Olympic charter. Recognition as a sport does not however determine inclusion, – for example chess has for many years tried to become part of the Olympics.
An application process can then be undertaken where the IOC decide which applications are successful. The decision is based on a number of factors; including the popularity of the sport, and that the sport must be played by both men and women. Cost factors concerning where to hold the sport are considered in order that hosts are not faced with huge overheads for a venue which may never again be used. Appeal to the younger generation is also a factor and the sport must be considered to ‘add value’ to the games.
Whilst rugby sevens made it back into the games this year, baseball and wrestling were removed. Announced just this month, baseball has made it back onto the list of confirmed sports for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. This highlights the ever-changing face of sport and society. Completely new to the line-up in 2020 will be skateboarding and surfing.
The journey to become a new Olympic sport is a complicated one based on many factors and in years to come we may even see the return of the good old tug of war!
Until then it’s time to sit back and enjoy the fiercely exciting Rugby Sevens tournaments and break out your skateboards – there is only four years to make it into the GB Skateboarding team!