Acting on the recommendations put forward by the IOC Executive Board at its meeting two months earlier in Berlin, the members of the International Olympic Committee voted to readmit rugby to the Olympic programme on 9 October 2009, the final day of the 121st IOC Session in Copenhagen (DEN). Like golf, the other sport that will return to the spotlight at the world’s biggest sporting event, rugby has figured on the programme before.
Rugby was reputedly invented by William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby School in England, in 1823. The sport figured on the Olympic programme intermittently between 1900 and 1924, in its traditional 15-a-side format, with the first winner of an Olympic rugby gold being France, who beat Germany in the final at the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris.
Rugby at the Paris 1924 Olympic Games © IOC
Eight years later in London, and an Australasia team made up of Australian and New Zealand players saw off the hosts Great Britain. USA then began a period of domination, beating France in the final at Antwerp 1920 and again at Paris 1924 to win back-to-back golds, at which point rugby was dropped from the Olympic programme, not to reappear for another 92 years in Rio de Janeiro, where men’s and women’s sevens competitions feature.
The Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games will prepare the ground for rugby’s grand return to the Olympic programme, just as it did at Innsbruck in January 2012, when freestyle skiing halfpipe, snowboard slopestyle and women’s ski jumping figured on the YOG programme in a dress rehearsal for their full Olympic debuts at Sochi 2014.
144 players, two gold medals
The men’s and women’s sevens competitions at Nanjing 2014 will be held at the city’s Youth Olympic Sports Park on 17-20 August, with 72 players taking part in each.
Both tournaments will be contested by six teams and feature an initial round-robin phase, with teams playing twice a day. Games will consist of two halves of seven minutes, with a two-minute break for half-time. Three points will be awarded for a win, two for a draw and one for a defeat.
The top four teams in the group phase will go forward to the semi-finals, with the top team playing the fourth-placed side and second meeting third, while the teams finishing fifth and sixth in the group will meet in a play-off for fifth place.
The medal matches on 20 August will feature two halves of 10 minutes. The day’s programme will begin with the bronze-medal matches, followed by the women’s final and then the men’s gold medal match.
The players who step onto the podium at the day’s end will take their place in Olympic history as rugby’s first medal winners of the 21st century, and some of them will be hoping to repeat the feat when the sport begins an exciting new Olympic era at Rio 2016.