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Rugby Sevens' Olympic Inclusion Will Have Greatest impact

Rugby Sevens' Olympic Inclusion Will Have Greater Long Term Impact than Rugby World Cup, According to New Hsbc Report

Sir Clive Woodward, Michael Johnson and Jason Robinson speak on the future of the sport

• Nine months until rugby sevens makes its Olympic Games debut at Rio 2016
• Global rugby participation has doubled since Olympic Games inclusion in 2009
• Rugby enjoying golden period following record-breaking Rugby World Cup 2015

Dubai, Friday 4 December, 2015 – As the countdown to rugby sevens’ much-anticipated Olympic Games debut gathers pace in Dubai this weekend, a new report suggests its appearance in Rio 2016 has already been a game-changer for the development and growth of rugby as a global sport and will have greater long term impact than the recent Rugby World Cup.

To mark the opening round of the men’s and women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, HSBC has teamed up with leading strategic planning consultancy, The Futures Company, to produce “Breaking New Ground”, a detailed look at rugby’s evolution and growth as it stands on the brink of a game-changing year. The report is based on interviews with leading industry experts and influential voices from within the world of sport such as Sir Clive Woodward, Olympic sprint legend Michael Johnson and 2003 Rugby World Cup winner Jason Robinson.

Global participation of rugby has more than doubled in less than a decade across the globe. There are now more than 100 full national member unions in World Rugby, and another 17 national associate members.

The inclusion of men’s and women’s rugby in the 2016 Olympic Games has been a catalyst for both funding and development. World Rugby has invested more than £350 million across the game at all levels between 2009 and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, reflecting its commitment to grow the rugby family and build a sustainable, inclusive future. Additional rugby funding has come from national Olympic associations.

The report will be published in full early next year, but initial findings also reveal:

• Growth of women’s participation has been explosive. The number of women players has grown from 200,000 to 1.7 million in just last three years; and 30% - nearly a third – of the participants in World Rugby’s Get Into Rugby mass participation programme have been girls.

• Rugby sevens is opening up the game in new markets on every continent in the world. Inclusion in the Olympic Games is proof of this, but rugby sevens also features at all major multi-sports events, including the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Pan-American Games and Youth Olympic Games.

• This hasn’t happened overnight: it is the fruit of a couple of decades of careful development work, balancing investment in rugby’s base with investment in the game’s emerging centres for the game.

• Rugby Sevens Olympic Games inclusion is benefiting all forms of the game in terms of participation, profile and interest (fifteens, beach, tag and touch). Participation is at an all time high and several unions are combining high performance environments for fifteens and sevens to build their international competitiveness.

“Rugby’s most important season is kicking-off this weekend in Dubai with the world’s top men’s and women’s players taking centre stage in the opening round of the new-look HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series,” commented Giles Morgan, Global Head of Sponsorship and Events at HSBC, a long term supporter of rugby.

“As a global banking and financial services organisation, we pride ourselves on opening up a world of opportunities for people and we want to help rugby union maximize this opportunity – this is why we commissioned this report. In addition to our flagship sponsorships like the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, we also create a positive legacy through our sponsorships by investing in youth development and grassroots programmes and the Olympics can make a real difference.”

“However, all the right ingredients don’t automatically guarantee success, so it’s crucial that World Rugby, unions and sponsors are committed to converting this opportunity. The gold medal for the sport will be to use Rio 2016 as a catalyst to drive even greater growth, participation and engagement in the game."

World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset says that the sport is already taking the opportunity of the Olympic Games in both hands:

“Olympic Games inclusion is transforming rugby worldwide. We are already seeing and converting the hugely positive and tangible opportunity of inclusion, and having our best men and women sevens players showcasing our exciting sport on one of the world’s biggest stages will enable rugby to engage and inspire new audiences around the world. Participation has already been dramatic. This will be a significant catalyst to further growth and we are ready to convert the opportunity.”

2003 Rugby World Cup winning England coach Sir Clive Woodward is in no doubt about what is at stake:

“Getting [rugby sevens] as an Olympic event is just colossal for the sport as a whole. I think Rio will be a huge event and act as the springboard to take it really global. If you want to develop any sport then the funding is absolutely crucial, but the key thing about government funding for sport in a lot of countries around the world, is that it is heavily based whether it is an Olympic sport or not. Rugby has already realised that the Olympic seal of approval was a big, big step forward in terms of the international development of the game.”

US sprint legend Michael Johnson underlines the challenge succinctly when he says that:

“With the Olympics there is no ‘next year’. Sports survive in the Olympics when the competition is seen as the best competitors in the world competing at their best. The teams need to understand the difference between the Olympics and a normal sevens competition. It is often a once in a lifetime opportunity, so preparation is everything. Mentally, knowing that there is no next year, creates a different type of pressure on the athletes.”

Warming to the theme of only getting one chance to make an impression, Jason Robinson, the former England flier who switched codes from league to union before winning the Rugby World Cup under Sir Clive Woodward, added:

“I know through experience that any journey to the pinnacle of a sport can be tough, but you must take your opportunity when it comes. If you don’t, it’s gone in a flash. Rugby sevens has a golden opportunity to showcase its skill, speed and flare to new audiences. There will be players on show this weekend who will become household names around the world when a gold medal is put around their necks next August. I’d have loved that opportunity.”

The competitive nature of the rugby at Rugby World Cup 2015 – with Japan, Georgia and Fiji all performing memorably, showed that the performance gap between the world’s best and the developing rugby nations is closing. Such compelling performances are already seen regularly in the Sevens game.

The finale to last season’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in London was won by the USA in London, and last year’s Series was claimed by Fiji, so there is a distinct possibility that a team from outside of the traditional rugby powerhouses will walk away with gold in nine months’ time.

“That’s inspiration in itself,” concludes Johnson. “But when you think that a country like Fiji has never won an Olympic medal of any colour – that could be game-changing. They don't give you gold medals for beating somebody. They give you gold medals for beating everybody.”


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