Olympic rugby will finally hit our screens this weekend after years of anticipation, but according to broadcaster John Inverdale, rather than just a showcase 7s event Rio could be a whole new beginning for the sport.
Rugby returned to the Olympic stage on the first day of competition at this summer’s Games, with Great Britain’s men eventually claiming an historic silver medal and the women finishing fourth.
It is the first time rugby 7s has ever been on the Olympic roster, and the first appearance of rugby union in any form at the Games in 92 years.
And thanks to the huge build-up the sport has received in recent months as well as the exposure that is to come in the next fortnight, Inverdale believes this competition could mark a turning point in the globalisation of the sport given the effect twenty20 has had on cricket.
“Undoubtedly the Olympics will have a huge impact on the growth of rugby,” he said. “But I think what will be really interesting down the line is how the balance of power between 7s rugby and XVs actually pans out.
“We could end up looking back on this tournament as the catalyst for a real seismic shift in the way that the game is viewed globally.
“7s could become the dominant partner, because of the complexity of the XVs game. You only have to look at the world of cricket to see what could happen.
“There is now significantly less interest in Test cricket in Australia, India, Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies – but if you have a twenty20 game playing the stadium is full. The Olympic 7s can globalise the sport far more than it is at the moment.
“You need places like India to embrace the game too. At the moment they can’t compete of course with the likes of Fiji, New Zealand and so on, but the Olympics will open up rugby and specifically 7s to a huge market.
“But how we capitalise on that so that your Chile’s and Angola’s want to recreate that spectacle remains to be seen.”
Inverdale was speaking at a roundtable discussion at HoK’s design studios in London, with the architectural firm looking to continue to innovate in the world of stadia construction.
And John Rhodes, HoK’s director of Sports, Recreation and Entertainment practise, is confident 7s-specific stadia are a realistic prospect having been behind revolutionary designs in Barcelona, Dubai and San Jose.
He said: “Rugby stadiums as a whole have always been based on a football typology, but there are some really unique aspects about 7s rugby which you can really bring into the design of the stadium.
“The format goes on for quite a long period of time which means actually the crowd is very much more dynamic and fluid than a traditional game.
“We found aspects of that really exciting. What’s special about 7s is you have more than two teams, so we want to create areas of territory for each of the teams to base themselves.
“You have a stadium which has more than two changing rooms and you base specific fans around those areas, and gives them the opportunity to create an energy and a wall of sound which is amplified by the roof.
“The culture and atmosphere is different in 7s. We want to enhance the camaraderie, and turn people who have gone to just experience the game into fans.”