Rugby has fought hard to be included in the Olympic Games in the 21st century, nearly 100 years since it was last played. The 1924 Paris Olympics was the last time the oval ball game was included until 2016 in Rio, when it returned in a sevens format.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) made this decision in late 2009 after intense lobbying by World Rugby. It was an important day and one that marked a potentially huge turning point for rugby, particularly the sevens.
The growth of the World Sevens Series, along with the impending Olympic inclusion, has propelled sevens to new heights. Countries such as South Africa have started full-time sevens programs where there had been none before.
The time, money and experience that the likes of South Africa, New Zealand and even the United States have spent on sport, once the Olympics became part of the equation raised the stakes. And Sevens has enjoyed growing growth and support, with the World Sevens series settling in from 9 to 11 tournaments globally.
But the impact of Covid has ruined nearly two full seasons of competition and forced a rethink. World Rugby has also prioritized the growth of women’s rugby by introducing the women’s Fifteens World event called WXV, starting at the end of 2023.
WXV will be held in three divisions in New Zealand, South Africa and Colombia in line with World Rugby’s vision to grow the women’s game.
Something is required to create breathing space in a tight calendar and consider the player’s wellbeing needs. World Rugby on Tuesday announced it would rebrand its World Sevens Series and drop to eight tournaments from 11 this season.
The Sports Board presented these changes as growth rather than reductions, but there are fewer leagues and teams (in the men’s division).
The men’s division will be reduced from 16 to 12, in keeping with the Olympic format.
There is only one tournament in Europe – the Grand Final in Madrid. Traditional rugby strongholds such as New Zealand, England and France will not host a tournament while there are two in North America and Asia. Cape Town is still on the calendar as well.
“Our ambition is for SVNS to be at the forefront of our growth strategy, attracting a younger audience hungry for leisure,” Alan Gilpin, chief executive of World Rugby, said in a statement.
“At eight iconic destinations played over seven months, we will bring together a truly immersive festival of rugby, music, food and experiences to create the weekend long youth get-together, the most exciting ticket, and start a new era for the sport.”
Madrid will host a relegation play-off competition in which the teams ranked ninth to twelfth will compete alongside the top four teams from the second tier World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series.
The top four teams in this playoff will secure their place in next year’s SVNS.
Men’s and women’s teams will also receive equal participation fees. DM
HSBC SVNS – Festival Dates
Dubai, United Arab Emirates – December 2-3, 2023
Cape Town, South Africa – December 9-10, 2023
Perth, Australia – January 26-28, 2024
Vancouver, Canada – February 23-25, 2024
Los Angeles, USA – March 2-3, 2024
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China – April 5-7, 2024
Singapore, Singapore – May 3-5, 2024
Madrid, Spain – May 31 – June 2, 2024