Author: Alex Dudley
The inclusion of rugby sevens in the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 raised a few eyebrows, but in hindsight, it has taken the sport to a new stratosphere. The 92-year absence of the sport in the Olympics was finally ended when it was included for the global showpiece event three years ago, and in between then and now there have been more fans interested in the game.
It might not be a flashy sport and mainstream in the USA as American football, especially with the money generated due to NFL Superbowl odds and the half time commercial fest, but it is spreading worldwide.
The competition was a roaring success in 2016 and the sevens competition captivating millions of new fans around the world, and the winning Fiji team in the men’s half of the draw ensured that hearts were in the sport from the get-go. However, while the first Fijian gold medal of any description got mainstream attention; the long-lasting effects that have followed the Australia women’s gold have been profound and have taken the women’s side of the game to the forefront.
The early signs of the success from the competition were stable, with the head of World Rugby, Bill Beaumont declaring that the expansion of the sport was on full display. However, the number that was found by online research was undoubtedly overwhelming. According to the study, the competition was viewed by 17 million new fans across the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Australia, France and the USA.
It was also revealed that the sport reached a new audience – women. Research found that was a 10% interest in the number of female fans of the sport, and this percentage was higher for those aged between 18 and 24-years-old; just exemplifying how bright the future is for the women’s game.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The number of participants in the women’s game has increased since the Rio games and one of the players that the younger players point to for their reason in getting involved in the sport is Charlotte Caslick.
The Australian gained widespread media coverage following her exploits in the gold medal success and was a picture of what the sport is about. She’s largely referred to as Tank Girl due to her aggressive tacking and high energy game; the kids grow up wanting to be her, and that is something the game has craved for so long.
Female soccer fans have Marta and Carli Lloyd as their idols and in tennis there is the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, always setting example. Now women’s sevens has Caslick as their leading light to inspire the next generation of players.
Sevens fans will be well aware of the HSBC World Sevens Series; after all, it is the main place to see all the international stars regularly. However, for too long, the women’s side of the draw only consisted of six legs. The success that followed the Olympics meant that needed to change, and it has been recently revealed that for the first time in the history of the competition, the female teams now will compete over eight legs.
The World Series is the primary route into the Olympic Games for most teams; with the top four teams automatically qualifying for the games, something that Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States have taken full advantage of. And this season has been a record-breaking one for the women. The competition this year brought the most tries ever in the competition as well as the highest viewing figures to date; both highlighting that the quality and interest are improving year on year.
The USA won the competition, and the popularity of the sport stateside is ever-increasing. Meanwhile, there were over 50,000 fans in attendance for the Dubai leg of the series. The future of the sport has never been brighter than it is right now, and the Tokyo Olympics next year could accelerate the growth of the game even further.