Rugby sevens is on the cusp on becoming a truly global sport with tens of millions of dollars being pumped into it worldwide.
The phenomenon that the seven-a-side adaptation of traditional 15-player rugby union has become is the focus of a PhD student at Griffith University.
It comes against the backdrop of teams from across the world descending on the Gold Coast for this weekend’s International Rugby Sevens Series.
Ben Corbett, a former sevens player himself, is investigating how the different rugby governing bodies around the world are approaching the sevens game. It is believed to be the only study of its type in the world.
“Since it was declared an Olympic sport in 2009 the interest has soared and not just from traditional rugby powers,” Mr Corbett said.
In 2016, Brazil will be the first to host rugby sevens at the Olympics and that is why it is one of the three countries chosen for Mr Corbett’s studies. The others are England, a traditional rugby nation with deep professional roots that still tends to view sevens as a developmental area; and USA, a mid-tier power that recognises the extensive commercial opportunities around sevens.
“It is a truly global sport. The 2010/11 HSBC World Sevens Series was broadcast to over 332 million homes around the world, and is contested on five continents.
“Even countries like Russia and China are investing enormous amounts of money in it now.
These non-traditional rugby nations, like a lot of African, Americas, and smaller European countries, are finding that they can achieve success on a world stage in the sevens format of the game.
“Whereas with the 15-man Rugby World Cup only four or five nations can seriously believe they can win it, the quarter-finalists of the last Sevens World Cup were Kenya, Wales, Argentina and Samoa.
“Only Wales is from the IRB (International Rugby Board) foundation nations.”
Mr Corbett, who was born in Texas and lived in San Diego, believes USA is a sleeping giant of the sport.
“They have a huge population and a huge Olympic budget.”
Mr Corbett’s work will consume the next two years at least and take him to England, Brazil and the USA.
His PhD will be supervised by Griffith Sports Management expert James Skinner who studied the professionalisation of Australian rugby union in the mid-1990s.
The end result will be a unique analysis of the different approaches that all feed into the sevens game evolving from a social activity to an Olympic sport contested by nations of every continent.