By Ben Corbett
The football landscape in Australia is very crowded. And has fierce tribal followings. Is there room for a little guy?
Yes, there should be! The “new kid on the block” Rugby Sevens is taking the globe by storm, and while it is taking a bit longer to catch on in Australia, I’d wager that will change after 2016.
Here’s why: #1 – Olympic status increasing local and global participation and competition, #2 – Fastest action on any footy field, and #3 International festival atmosphere in the stadium.
Allow me to explain.
FIRST, being in the Olympics means the general public will watch Sevens every four years, which will draw new fans and participants after 2016. But more importantly, the Olympic stage is driving a global boom in rugby right now.
Twenty-five nations bid to host a IRB Sevens World Series event next season (including non-traditional rugby nations like Germany, Spain, and China), and 14 bid to host the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens, showing the globalisation of rugby that Sevens is producing.
Key stat: global rugby participation has exploded by 120% (3.0 million to 6.6 million) since 2009 when the International Olympic Committee announced rugby’s re-admittance into the Olympic programme.
Like watching a competitive battle?
Not long ago, the traditional rugby nations regularly beat up on the minnows in Sevens by margins of 50+ points.
However, the average points difference on the World Sevens Series has gone from 27 in the first season to 11 last season. Proof that the competitive gap is closing as more nations increase resources in the Olympic era.
Canada, the USA, Kenya, and even Portugal are now claiming victories over New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and the UK home nations. Want excitement? The USA was up 19-5 over World’s best New Zealand with 3 minutes to go at last year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens, only to lose 26-19 after the All Blacks Sevens scored a try right on the final hooter!
SECOND, no other code of football - not Aussie Rules, Rugby League, Soccer and especially big brother Rugby Union – has as much fast action and open play as Sevens. Aussie Rules may be close, but half of the 34 players on the pitch are standing or walking around at any given time.
Key stat: a try is scored every 70 seconds.
Remember, this is a full size football field, same as Union and League. But only 7 players to defend.
Cue side-steppers, speed merchants, and fitness freaks.
The Olympic carrot is attracting better athletes to Sevens, and the level of skill and competition has skyrocketed over the last couple seasons.
Players like ex-Gold Coast Titan Shannon Walker flourish in Sevens. His 100m try at the Wellington Sevens was spectacular.
And American sprinter Carlin Isles used his 10.13 second 100m speed to become an overnight sensation after scoring on his first touch of the ball against New Zealand in the 2012 Gold Coast 7s. He was the top male try-scorer at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
THIRD, the comradery and cultural integration at a Sevens World Series tournament is a unique sporting experience. Where else can you have a beer with fans from 16 countries in one stadium?
At the last Gold Coast Sevens I had the chance to jump around with the Kenyans, sing with the English, giggle with the Fijians, banter with the South Africans, chant with the Americans, drink with the Scottish, scold the refs with the Argentinians, politely chat with the Canadians, and be immersed in a New Zealand victory Haka.
Cultural integration not your thing? Stick with your tribe and put on some fancy dress. Sevens brings out some creative and funny costumes.
I am not asking you to cross-over to the Sevens tribe full-time. Please keep watching your favourite footy code, but just give Sevens a fair go - you’ll be surprised how much you enjoy it!