A football picked up by hand
The legend of rugby has it that, in 1823, during a football match, a student at Rugby School in Great Britain took the ball in his hands and ran over the goal line. That day, William Webb Elis invented rugby.
First international meeting
This sport has, in reality, much older origins, as, in various forms and with various names, similar games had already been practised in the Middle Ages in many European countries.
Between 1845 and 1848, pupils from the Rugby School and students from the University of Cambridge in Great Britain documented and codified the rules of rugby.
In 1871, the first national federation was created, and that same year saw the first international match played between Scotland and England.
Rugby’s International Federation, World Rugby (previously known as the International Rugby Board), was founded in 1886.
At the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th century, this sport saw a rise in popularity at all social levels and was exported worldwide, thus giving rise to different variants.
The two main ones today are rugby union and rugby sevens. There is also “touch rugby”, “rugby flag”, “rugby 10s” and “beach rugby”. Each has its own variation of rugby’s rules, but all share the same spirit.
It is said that rugby is a sport for all shapes and sizes. Today, it is practised all over the world, with 120 countries and territories being affiliated to World Rugby.
Rugby union - 15 players per team - has featured on the Olympic programme four times: in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924.
In 1900, at the Paris Olympic Games, it was the French team who won the first Olympic tournament on home soil. The tournaments of the other editions of the Games gave victory to Australasia (a mixed Australian and New Zealand team) in 1908 in London; then twice to the USA, at the Antwerp Games in 1920 and Paris Games in 1924.
At the 121st Session in Copenhagen in October 2009, the IOC members voted in favour of re-introducing rugby to the Olympic programme. In Rio in 2016, rugby sevens will make its appearance at the Olympic Games, with men’s and women’s tournaments each comprising 12 teams.
Discover the reference document for Rugby.