7 February 2014
The South African men’s and women’s Sevens rugby teams will automatically qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio if they secure top-four finishes in their respective 2014/15 HSBC Sevens World Series competitions, the International Rugby Board (IRB) confirmed on Thursday.
This follows ratification by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of the inaugural Rugby Sevens qualification process that will feature a blend of the existing men’s and women’s series structures, regional competitions and a world play-off, ensuring universal representation and the participation of the best teams and players.
Under the qualification structure for the men’s competition, four nations will qualify from the 2014/15 Sevens World Series, one nation from each of the six IRB regional competitions, one from the world play-off, and automatic qualification for Brazil, as the hosts of the Olympic Games.
The women will follow a similar format, with four teams confirmed via the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series, six from the regional competitions, the world play-off winner and automatic qualification for Brazil.
Strong medal contenders
South Africa currently leads the 2013/14 men’s World Series standings by a slender margin over rivals New Zealand. Should they continue to be one of the leading lights in the World Series, the Blitzbokke will go into the Rio Olympics as one of South Africa’s strongest contenders for a gold medal.
In the past five years, South Africa has won the World Series once and finished second twice. After placing second in 2012/13 and winning three tournaments, coach Neil Powell’s charges have lifted two titles in four events so far this season, which suggests the team is finding greater consistency and playing at a higher level than ever before.
The Springbok Women Sevens, meanwhile, finished the 2012/2013 World Series in eighth position. A similar finish in 2014/15 would leave them outside of the core group featuring on the 2013/2014 circuit.
However, with the South African Rugby Union having contracted 15 players to the elite women’s Sevens squad, their chances of qualifying next season will no doubt be higher.
‘Great for rugby’
IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset said in a statement on Thursday: “We are excited and honoured for rugby Sevens to be making its Olympic Games debut in Rio and believe that the Games will be great for rugby and rugby will be great for the Games.
“We are working in partnership with the Rio 2016 Organising Committee and the IOC to deliver a rugby Sevens event that delivers outstanding competition, showcases our most skilful players, delivers a very special vibrant atmosphere and engages new and young audiences around the world.”
Referring to the continuing spread of the Sevens game, Lapasset added: “We are delighted to be announcing a truly global qualification structure that presents the opportunity for all our member unions to participate, ensures at least one team from each IRB region qualifies, and delivers the best teams and players to ensure Rugby Sevens contributes significantly to the success of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.”
SAinfo reporter and SA Rugby