DUBLIN, Ireland: World Rugby has announced details of a rugby sevens investment strategy to optimise the sport’s preparation for, and participation at, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, now scheduled for July 2021.
In a significant boost to unions and players, the international federation is making a dedicated initial investment of $2.5 million to support Olympic qualified national unions prepare for sevens’ biggest single global event, the Olympic Games.
With all sports impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the Olympic Games postponed by 12 months, the commitment is being made with the welcome support of an advancement of International Olympic Committee payments to International Federations and National Olympic Committees.
Each union that has qualified a team for the Tokyo 2020 Games will be able to apply to World Rugby for funding which can be directed towards rugby sevens squad training camps, competition support, technical and sports science and medical programmes.
The news of the funding boost comes as collaborative contingency planning for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021 continues to progress with ongoing reviews into the delivery of the remaining 2021 men’s and women’s Series events and preparations towards a safe, secure and impactful return to action in line with World Rugby’s COVID-19 return to play protocols.
Following consultation and constructive dialogue with the host organisations, it has been confirmed that the combined men’s and women’s Hamilton and Sydney rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021, which were provisionally scheduled for 23-24 and 30-31 January 2021 respectively, will not take place due to the ongoing and dynamic global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decisions were taken in line with relevant government and international public health authority advice and with the health and wellbeing of the rugby community and the wider public as top priority. Both hosts are due to return to a full Series schedule beyond 2021.
World Rugby continues to work in collaboration with all host and participating unions, International Rugby Players, partners and stakeholders to closely monitor global developments with the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to work towards a return to HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series action, with planning ongoing towards holding events in Hong Kong and Singapore in April 2021. A further update on HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series scheduling will be given in due course.
Meanwhile, World Rugby, in full partnership with host unions, regional associations, participating unions and International Rugby Players, continues to evaluate and develop supplementary competition opportunities at regional or cross-regional level in addition to the Series to ensure that Olympic qualified teams have an appropriate amount of high-level competition opportunities, which will enable them to compete to the best of their abilities at the Games, despite the significant disruption caused across the sporting spectrum by the pandemic.
Planning for the Olympic Repechage final qualification event in the first half of 2021 is ongoing. With 21 of the 24 teams already qualified for the Olympic rugby sevens competition in Tokyo, the remaining two women's and one men’s spots will be determined at the final qualification event.
Rugby sevens is expected to be one of the hottest tickets of the Tokyo Games, following the record breaking success of Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, which captured the nation’s hearts, filled stadiums and created millions of passionate new rugby fans and participants across Japan and Asia.
The inclusion of rugby sevens for the first time in the Olympic Games at Rio 2016 had a profound effect on the sport, attracting an estimated 30 million new fans globally.
World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said: “Rugby sevens is a key priority for World Rugby in our mission to grow the global game and we are pleased to be able to share details of this new investment. Combined with the ongoing contingency work on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021 and a supplementary international competition strategy, this will ensure that Olympic qualified teams have the necessary training and high-level competition opportunities to optimise their performance and light up the biggest sporting stage at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“We continue to closely monitor the ongoing and dynamic global situation with COVID-19 and the health and wellbeing of the rugby community and the wider public remains sacrosanct. While it is disappointing not be able to go ahead with the Series events in New Zealand and Australia in January 2021, we are working very hard together with all host organisations, participating unions and other stakeholders to bring a safe, secure and highly impactful return to action as soon as possible and we look forward to returning to Sydney and Hamilton in the future.”
Rugby Australia interim chief executive Rob Clarke said: “On behalf of Rugby Australia, we want to thank World Rugby for their generous support as our teams focus on their preparation ahead of the Olympic Games in 2021. Our women’s side is desperate to defend their gold medal next year in Tokyo while our men’s side have been gradually building over the last four years, and this investment provides both programmes the opportunity to continue that development.”