The 2013 Gold Coast Rugby Sevens this weekend brings a heady mix of colour, flair, skill and excitement to the city. It also brings with it a timely reminder that there is work to be done if Australia is to take full advantage from the sport’s debut at the 2016 Olympic Games.
“It is crucial that the ARU (Australian Rugby Union) gets a structure in place to develop and sustain sevens rugby in the build-up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio,” Ben Corbett, a Griffith University sports management researcher, says.
“A defined structure for running sevens competitions in Australia is vital rather than a few one-off competitions. There is no way to develop sevens skills without that structure at national level. That means a strategic change to the traditional approach to sevens rugby in Australia.”
Ben Corbett is completing a PhD at Griffith University’s Gold Coast campus where he is studying how sevens rugby is run globally and how it can be effectively developed ahead of its 2016 Rio debut.
He says right moves in the right direction are happening in Australia, highlighting a recent ARU restructure that will incorporate a new Sevens Department and where its general manager is charged with building the competition structures and player pathways.
“The Olympic Games represent a huge opportunity for the sport. Right now, more and more people want to play the game than ever before because of the Olympics.
“But it’s after the Rio Games, after the world sees what an exciting and entertaining sport it is, that the numbers coming to the sport will really swell.
“If the proper structures are not in place in Australia by that stage, then we could miss the boat. However, if the structures have been tried and tested before the Olympics it will put us in a great position to embrace the Olympic afterglow.
“We are now beginning to follow the lead shown by other countries where they specialise in sevens. It means some players have to choose to move away from 15-man rugby which can be a huge decision in a country like Australia where there is a traditional expectation and therefore pressure to play 15s.”
Mr Corbett has visited Kenya, South Africa and his native United States to investigate how sevens rugby is treated around the world. He has also gathered research data from 24 rugby unions around the globe.
“Facilities, values and attitudes to the sport are issues that keep coming up. Sevens is part of the PE curriculum in a lot of countries and there has been a notable shift in attitudes since it became an official Olympic sport. It’s no longer seen just as a social sport.”
This weekend’s Gold Coast Sevens at Skilled Park kicks off the HSBC Sevens World Series.
When the tournament comes around again in 12 months time, it will kick off the contest for places at the 2016 Olympics with the four top-ranked teams in May 2015 qualifying directly for the Rio Games.