Olympics 2016 Sevens: 5 Things Rio Can Learn from Commonwealth Games
Since its introduction to the Commonwealth Games in 1998, Sevens has played a key role in each of the Games it has featured in. Crowds have packed the stadium and the action has been fast and furious, bringing a new dimension to the list of established events.
The success of Sevens as a Commonwealth Games sport has helped it gain Olympic status for 2016 when it will make its debut in Rio.
It sets the sport a challenge to enrapture and entertain a host nation not familiar with the oval-ball game, to convince the International Olympic Committee that it should be retained for future Games.
Here are the lessons Rio can take from the Glasgow tournament to make Sevens a success.
1. Choose a Good Venue
Ibrox was stuffed with spectators who came for a party, and the atmosphere in the old football stadium was jumping thanks to them.
Compare that to the less than impressive crowds at Scotstoun for the IRB Sevens Series leg a few months earlier and it’s clear that the lure of medal competition in a proper stadium provides a spectacle people will want to come and watch.
Rio needs, therefore, to choose its venue for the Sevens carefully. In a football-mad nation the Sevens is unlikely to fill the Maracana, but a more intimate ground still with plenty of seats should see Sevens make a successful Olympic debut in attendance terms at least.
2. Put a Team in from the Host Nation
Give a Brazilian a rugby ball and he’ll tell you your football is broken. But we saw in Glasgow the atmosphere inside Ibrox when Scotland were giving it a go.
They rattled New Zealand in their opening game and, as the Press Association reported (via the Observer), “at the home of Scottish football’s fallen giants Rangers, 45,000 fans helped generate an atmosphere more akin to an Old Firm derby than a rugby contest.”
A home side flinging the ball about in their home Games will do the same in Brazil, and it might just open a new market for the union game.
3. Retain the Plate, Bowl and Shield Competitions
It is a unique trait to rugby tournaments that the nations knocked out early drop into competitions for lesser baubles than the main prize.
In this year’s Commonwealth Games, that structure saw England win the plate, Canada claim the bowl and Sri Lanka take home the shield.
It keeps a tournament alive for so many more teams than those hunting gold, silver and bronze, and it should be retained in Rio.
4. Sevens Can Steal the Show If Done Well
London had the unique and beguiling spectacle of beach volleyball on Horseguards Parade with crowd sing-songs and skimpy outfits.
Rugby can be Rio’s version, a sight so alien to its surroundings and to the people who come to see it that it lights up the games.
The Guardian’s Andy Bull wrote of the Ibrox experience:
They sold 186,000 tickets for the sevens, split between four sessions. The noise was like nothing else that has been heard here yet, so loud it was almost painful for ears grown accustomed to the sound of smaller crowds in smaller venues. …
At one point on Sunday morning there was a 40,000-strong sing-a-long of Sweet Caroline. It is one of those rare instances when all the gimcracks and gimmicks – the ear-splitting soundtrack, the drunk blokes running in human hamster wheels, the big screen invitations to play the bongos or kiss the person next to you – only add to the occasion.
This is what Rio needs to achieve. Do it, and rugby’s future as an Olympic sport will be looking rosy.
5. Roll out the Big Guns
Back in 1998, Sevens made its Commonwealth bow, and New Zealand brought Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen with them.
Scotland added some household 15-a-side names to their roster for the 2014 version including Stuart Hogg and Sean Lamont, but to truly make Sevens a sport to amaze in Rio, each top-tier nation should be encouraged to do the same.
An Olympic Sevens with players like Julian Savea, Willie Le Roux, Marland Yarde and more would put bums on seats.