The stars of rugby sevens are on the home straight of the road to Rio 2016 following confirmation of the men’s and women’s squads who will represent rugby, and their nation, on sport’s biggest stage for the first time in 92 years.
With interest and excitement high throughout the global rugby community, National Olympic Committees, in partnership with national member unions, have been busy selecting and naming the 12-player squads for the women’s (6-8 August) and men’s (9-11 August) competitions ahead of the 18 July deadline.
For rugby, Olympic inclusion has already proven to be a game-changer, providing a strong growth and funding impetus, and for the world’s top sevens stars the opportunity to become an Olympian and compete for a medal has been a driving force behind a journey that began when the sport was voted on to the summer Olympic programme in 2009.
Among a roster full of women’s stars are Australia’s speedster Ellia Green, all-time series leading try scorer Portia Woodman (New Zealand), USA inspiration Jillion Potter and Canada captain Jen Kish.
Among the men’s stars packing for Rio are double Rugby World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand), rugby’s fastest man Carlin Isles (USA), sevens’ most prolific try scorer Collins Injera (Kenya), Argentina’s Rugby World Cup star Juan Imhoff and NFL Super Bowl winner Nate Ebner.
There are also a number of siblings selected within the respective squads. Brazil and New Zealand, for example, have two sets. Sonny Bill Williams and sister Niall as well as the Ioane brothers, Akira and Rieko, for New Zealand and Moises and Lucas Duque and twins Felipe and Daniel Sancery for Brazil. Kenya brothers Collins Injera and Humphrey Kayange will also be pivotal to their hopes of a medal, the latter having been a member of the World Rugby delegation that presented rugby’s case for inclusion to the International Olympic Committee in 2009.
There is also a sprinkling of Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games graduates making their way to Rio, including France’s gold medallist Sacha Valleau and Canadian silver medallists Hannah Darling and Charity Williams.
Rugby sevens’ debut at Rio 2016 is set to deliver unforgettable moments as the selected players become the sport’s first Olympians in 92 years, while Olympic history will be made if Fiji win a medal of any colour as the Pacific Island nation have never won a medal at the Olympic Games. The prospect is a realistic one as Fiji’s men enter the Games as HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions.
Record rugby growth in Brazil
For Brazil, with their men’s and women’s teams competing, the chance to showcase rugby to an unprecedented national audience will cap a hugely-successful IMPACT Beyond Rio 2016 programme that has involved more than 175,000 young players, coaches and teachers since March 2015. Total participation in a nation where team sports are popular has increased from 5,500 to 100,000 since Rio and rugby were confirmed by the IOC in 2009.
World Rugby is encouraging fans to get involved, celebrate rugby’s inclusion and join the conversation on social media using the #Rugby and #RoadToRio hashtags, while tickets are still available to see the sevens stars in action via the Rio 2016 website.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “Confirmation of the squads for the 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams represents another significant milestone for rugby sevens on the road to Rio 2016.
“With less than three weeks to go we are well and truly on the home straight and anticipating spectacular and successful rugby sevens competitions at Rio 2016.”
Rugby has appeared four times at the Olympic Games with USA the reigning champions from the 1924 Paris Games.
Report courtesy of World Rugby