One of the things that World Rugby was hoping for most with the inclusion of sevens into the Olympics was the spread of the game throughout the world.
Sevens is a bit more accessible than 15s, simply because of the numbers, yet the speed and the skill required do make it an exciting game.
In a country like Denmark, Sevens is played throughout the year, because most clubs do not have the numbers to form 15s teams. For the Danish Rugby Union then, it was a godsend to have regular TV coverage of both the men’s and the women’s events. And on the whole, the reaction to the game itself and to the sportsmanship of the players has been so positive that there seems to be a genuine growing interest in the game.
In the Low Countries, the rugby sevens was barely covered on the TV, though all of it was available through the Dutch NOS and Flemish Sporza live streams. Sporza did show the men’s final, which might have been one-sided, but it gave us the best closing of the tournament we could have expected with a display of skill that knew no bounds.
Of course, television coverage is not all that matters. For the Netherlands the Olympics meant the rise of a first, fully professional rugby team in the Dutch Sevens Ladies and the related development squads. And while they might have lost some funding when they failed to reach the Olympics, and even the repechage, they did bring a lot of attention to the sport, showing up in the papers and across media for the past few years, as well as giving clinics at clubs and schools around the country.
Some of that transferred into the last few days, with the ladies hosting clinics on the beach in Scheveningen.
Denmark too benefitted from the extra funds put into rugby by the Olympics. While the chances of qualifying for both the men and the women were very slim indeed, they did try. And with the help of that bit of extra funding and attention they managed to send both a men’s and a women’s team on to the European circuit for regular competition.
All of this is in the hope that it will not just benefit sevens, but also the 15s game. And with the double whammy of last year’s World Cup and this year’s Olympics, it might just be the boost that was needed to take rugby from a fringe sport in these nations to something that is accepted in the mainstream as a sport that kids can pick up from an early age and compete in.
Paul Peerdeman, Pundit Arena