2016 Summer Olympics: A Preliminary Look at Rugby Sevens

ABSTRACT: The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will include a version of rugby for the first time since 1924. Read on to learn more about the new Olympic sport of rugby sevens.

The XXXI Summer Olympic Games will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, between Aug. 5 and Aug. 21, 2016. Some fans might be surprised to learn that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has added rugby sevens, along with golf, to the Rio Games' lineup.

This article will provide fans with some key information on rugby sevens.


Legend has it that a schoolboy, William Webb Ellis, who lived in Rugby, England, invented the sport in 1823. While rugby itself is less than three hundred years old, the sport can trace its roots back to ball sports, which have been played in the United Kingdom since at least medieval times. The Rugby Football Union was formed in 1871 and the International Rugby Football Board in 1886. These two entities have helped to regulate the sport. The IOC recognizes the latter organization as the official arbiter for rugby.
See Footnote #1
The Olympics organizers included men's rugby in most of the Summer Games between 1900 and 1924. During this period, countries fielded traditional rugby teams, consisting of 15 starters per side. The IOC decided to drop the sport from the Olympic program after the 1924 Paris Games. In 2009, they opted to reintroduce a version of the sport, rugby sevens, to the 2016 Summer Games. The Rio Olympics will award medals to winners in the men's and women's divisions.

The Rugby Field

A rugby field, or pitch, resembles a football field with fewer line markings. The pitch is 100 meters (approximately 109 yards) long and 69 meters (around 75.5 yards) wide. Lines are placed at midfield, or the halfway line, 10 meters (10.9 yards) from the halfway point, and 22 meters (24 yards) from the halfway point. The field also contains goal lines (called try lines) and out of bounds marks. Two H-shaped goalposts are placed at each end, just past the try lines.


Rugby sevens resembles a mix of football and soccer. Each team contains 12 players, consisting of seven starters and five reserve (or bench) players. One team starts out by punting the ball, which looks like a rounded football, from the halfway (midfield) line. The team on offense tries to advance the ball to the opponent's try line by running and by passing the ball back and forth. Of note, players cannot pass the ball forward. They must pass the ball horizontally or backwards. The opposing team tries to steal the ball or tackle the player, thereby forcing him or her to release the ball. The ultimate goal of each team is to score as many points as possible.

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Players can score points by grounding the ball with force over the goal line (try line). This maneuver is worth five points. If a team scores a try, they can then go for a two point conversion, in which a player attempts to drop kick the ball over and between the goalposts. Players can score three points by drop kicking the ball through the goal posts during play or by kicking the ball through the goal posts, via a penalty kick.
The game consists of two, 7-minute halves, with the exception of the finals, which is divided into two 10-minute halves. If the teams are tied at the end regulation, they will play 5-minute sudden death halves until "one of the teams scores a try."


The IOC just recently published the qualifications procedures for countries trying to earn a spot in the rugby sevens competitions at the Rio Olympics. In both the men's and women's brackets, 12 teams will qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Brazil's men's and women's teams automatically qualify for the Olympics. Four of the top teams from the men's and women's 2014/2015 Sevens World Series, as well as six regional champions, will also book tickets to Rio. One additional squad will earn a spot in the Olympics by winning the world play-off (or by finishing better than all of the other non-qualifiers).

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Footnote #1: Alistairjh (2008, Jan. 6). Canada vs. Kenya in the 2008 Emirates Airline Edinburgh Sevens
     Retrieved from Wikimedia (see linked title).  The author/owner has released the photo into the public 
     domain without any restrictions.  Per his comment on Wikimedia.


The Official Website of the Rio 2016 Games
The BBC Sports Academy
The Official Site of Australian Sevens Rugby
The New Zealand Rugby Union
The Official Website of the Olympic Movement

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