Olympic Movement for Rugby Sevens: Now a Rewarding Fulltime Role

Australian Women's Sevens Media Opportunity

From Last Word on Rugby, Scott Hornell

Rugby Sevens has been a part of the Olympics for only a single event. The 2016 Summer Olympic Games proved to be both a popular and a watershed moment for the sport. It’s inclusion in the Olympic movement for rugby sevens is a foundation for development all on its own – away from the shadow of the XV’s game.

Last Word on Rugby has for several seasons supported the game. Our core writing team of Jovilisi Waqa and Scott Hornell follow the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series for both men and women. The growth in competition see’s an active interest in the Oceania, Asia, the Americas, Europe and many International markets.

The enjoyable, fast-paced, and spectator friendly product can expose crowds and participants who might never have seen any game; let alone the 15-a side game. Easy to understand, and relatively easy to play.

Many more are followers and long supporters of this steadily growing sport. Supporters help to establish and promote the game in both large centers and in areas like the Pacific. This includes Jill Scanlon. A Media & Communications Consultant, and a strong Advocate for the development of sport.

Jill has always known the sport can help develop individuals and team sports, and see’s the game of sevens as a contributor to the development of sports people and their dreams.

The Growth and Development of Rugby Sevens

Defined in a way by it’s name, the short history of rugby sevens is only a quarter of the lifetime, of the full games version. Played over two seven minute halves, similar to the full version but with lightening quick reflexes. And the shortened game is attractive to women, as much as to men.

While the World Series involves the more established nations; like Fiji, New Zealand and England, it is on the verge of a breakout period. Jovilisi Waqa will tell you that in his home country of Fiji, it is number one…two…three and is like Cricket in India. More like a religion.

That is partly through the ripple effect of the Olympics. Fiji won it’s very first ever Gold medal, when their heroes came through to win the sports newest pinnacle. It was a truly emotional win, played with both panache and humility, and a broad smile.

Gold medallists Fiji celebrate during the mens rugby sevens medal ceremony during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Deodoro Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 11, 2016. / AFP / John MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

The Olympics Effect, and Fulltime Sevens Professional

Now considered a full time role by many, the Olympic Movement in Rugby Sevens has been embraced by many nations. Jill Scanlon can see that the benefits for men and women that can only boost the game’s image.

“The added resources and support which national unions gained from that inclusion [Olympics] allowed investment in development. Not only for existing rugby nations but perhaps more importantly, for the sport itself. Funding for its introduction into new communities and new marketplaces.

The most tangible impact already emerging is for Women’s rugby. For Australia, the off-field impact of winning that gold medal has been just as significant as the on-field deed itself.

“players become positive role models for young girls, both as athletes and as people.”

That includes Alicia Quirk, Ellia Green and Emilee Cherry (see main picture). The golden girls have used sport to promote their dreams, and are now sharing with young athletes, advice and encouragement to ‘take up their dreams’.

Inclusion in the Olympics has given Sevens a rich power-base. A foundation for development all its own – away from the shadow of XVs. With a growing worldwide audience, the marketability of the sport, and it’s participants, can bring more lucrative deals and rewards for the players.

High Performance Athletes Can Benefit from the Game Today

“It also means that for the players themselves, the ability to pursue their dreams and excel becomes a reality not constrained by the pragmatic financial and logistical realities of daily life,” says Scanlon. Stakeholders can support athletes to a point. From there, the high-performance success of the team and individual can lead to more rewards and titles.

Full time roles today, with men like Carlin Isles and women, like Portia Woodman (see above video), gain in notoriety for their exploits on the field–and on social media. Well managed profiles can bring further endorsements and wider benefits and accolades. Benefits that trailblazers like Eric Rush or Waisale Serevi, could never have dreamed of.

Pinnacle Events Can Both Promote the Game, Plus the Sports Values

The Olympics will not fully replace the Rugby World Cup Sevens event. Like the XV’s version, it is the traditional stage to perform on. A place where Fiji and New Zealand have performed more than admirably. Winning the World Cup on two occasions each, they will again battle for the title in San Francisco in July – one year from now.

To be held in the worlds biggest sports and entertainment market, expect the hosts USA Rugby to ‘put out the word’. The promotion and marketing will be on an unprecedented. level And with that stage, World Rugby can then tell the story of the sport. Promote it’s values, and illustrate it’s place in helping to develop the confidence of men and women.

An important factor, as the more globally popular sports like Football and Basketball can still be seen as more difficult to reach the highest levels. Whereas, rugby sevens is a more achievable sport. One where an NFL player like Nate Ebner can transition from Gridiron to Rugby. Ebner was a part of both the 2016 USA Olympic sevens squad, as well as the victorious New England Patriots.

Nate Ebner of the United States on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Deodoro Stadium, Brazil. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The increased focus from both traditional rugby players as well as athletes from other sports, shows how the lure of the Olympic movement in rugby sevens has on sports people. That luster of gold can motivate players to see sevens now as a pathway to higher honours.

Sevens Now a Pathway to Higher Honours

Today, traditional powerhouses of the Commonwealth, plus the new regions Asia, the Americas and Europe are increasing their funding levels. The wider focus will only heighten the title race. And with teams like Wales, England and Australia having success in the men’s and women’s events, the broader base of challengers is growing, along with the increased funding levels.

From Fiji to Japan, Sevens Reaches New Regions and New Target Markets

In Fiji, funding for sports like sevens poured in from the government, for teams to have a higher international presence. That contribution has benefited the women’s team. Known as Fijiana, the women finished in fourth place in the HSBC Women’s Sevens Series. Their highest ever placing–directly related to both funding, and the lure of playing at the Olympic Games in Japan, 2020.

Funding of Rugby Sevens Benefits Athletes and all Stakeholders

Jill Scanlon see’s it as a modern trend in sport. “What has become apparent in the 21st century, is that for a sport to succeed and be viable at the elite level, it must invest in its athletes [at the earliest stages].

England players celebrate victory after defeating South Africa in the Cup Final of the Tokyo Sevens Rugby 2015. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
For rugby, this is indisputable. The flow-on effect of Olympic inclusion is that the standard of a sport rises as a consequence of the drive for excellence. And this cannot happen without the full focus and dedication of it participants – especially in a global sporting marketplace.”
The grassroots are the key focus, in talent recognition. In a similar way to the US collegiate system. Talent is identified at an early age, who are provided resources and training. ‘Hubs’ for training can assist this, such as the Rugby Institute in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

LWOR lead sevens reporter Jovilis Waqa agrees. He says “the World Sevens Series this season also saw the increase of many new faces coming through ‘the system’. Fresh, young faces of 17-19 year old women and men featured for Russia, Spain, Australia and New Zealand.”

That included young All Black Sevens player Vilimoni Koroi. At 19, he has shined brightly in his first season as a professional. Featuring in 31 matches, he is one of the new breed to play alongside DJ Forbes: the most capped Sevens Series player in history.

Olympic Movement for Rugby Sevens Underwrites Games Popularity

Waqa recalls that “some of the new stars today have switched codes; from track and field, to begin playing rugby sevens.

“This is due to ‘rugby fever’ sweeping the sporting world–and the sports inclusion in the Olympics is a the golden carrot.”

Waqa and Scanlon each agree that the focus on Tokyo 2020 is a tangible goal for many nations. And with the World Cup also being held in a nation that embraces sport, it maybe the greatest surge of involvement that the game of rugby has seen.

And even without the increase in funds, the speed of the game is a bonus. Being such a TV friendly product, it is similar in a way to the recent Americas Cup racing. Short, fast-paced action, that can be easily absorbed. Then shared and accessed on many channels, such as social media.

The popularity of the game in Fiji, recently influenced Hollywood actress Shailene Woodley. She took time when filming to watch a rugby game, and then informed her 1.2 million followers of the excitement of the sport. Instantly engaging thousands, with over 1000 likes and over 100 retweets.

More and more, this is how the sport is reaching new viewers and fans. Popularity from social media activity, promotion and marketing will all support the growth in funding. And while the benefits for sports men and women maybe fulltime roles, it is still underwritten in the character, team unity and passion of rugby sevens. Still built on a love for the game.

Share that, and the benefits for rugby sevens will trend long into the future.

“Main photo credit”