x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Hastings and Kirwan see the future in sevens

The two rugby legends believe that the short format and its Olympic status will be the vehicle to send the sport global.

Gavin Hastings says that the Olympic status of sevens rugby will enable it to be taken up by many more nations.
Gavin Hastings says that the Olympic status of sevens rugby will enable it to be taken up by many more nations.

Olympic status will serve as a catalyst to turn rugby into a truly global game and see sevens become the world's fastest growing sport, according to rugby legends John Kirwan and Gavin Hastings. For decades the sevens format has enabled developing rugby nations, such as Kenya, Russia and Portugal to compete with the established giants of the game but compared to sports like football its global reach has remained limited. However, its inclusion in the Olympics is set to raise the global profile of the sport considerably and provide the platform for sevens to become rugby's leading format. Gavin Hastings, the former captain of Scotland and the British and Irish Lions, says that the Olympics presents rugby with an unprecedented opportunity to expand.

"The fact that rugby sevens is now an Olympic sport provides an amazing platform to grow the game. It will give an opportunity for teams who have never participated in sevens before to take up the sport. "It is an enormous decision and just watch how rugby nations will develop from nowhere over the next twenty years as a result. There is no question that sevens is the way to grow the game. "Rugby will not be a truly global sport until it involves Asia, Africa and South America and sevens will be the vehicle to do that." This confidence in the role of sevens as a catalyst to help rugby challenge the global appeal of football is shared by John Kirwan, the coach of Japan, and the All Black great believes that one day sevens will become the dominant form of the game.

"In 25 years time sevens will be a bigger game than fifteens. It has a party atmosphere, is played at a fast pace and is easy to understand. "I believe it will become the worlds fastest growing sport. There is no question that Asia will be introduced to rugby through sevens and not fifteens." Dubai has played an instrumental role in showcasing sevens' potential as an Olympic sport by hosting the World Cup in March, as well as reaching its 40th anniversary of the Dubai Rugby Sevens last week which saw over 160 men's' and women's teams from around the world compete in 11 tournaments. The diversity of competing nations, competitiveness of the games and the popularity of the event were key factors in it being chosen as the latest Olympic discipline.

Hastings and Kirwan believe that the prestige of the Olympics as the world's premier sporting event will see a dramatic increase in government funding for the sport that will inevitably lead to sevens becoming a professional sport with a global reach. "Sevens is bringing rugby to a new audience. Tournaments like the Dubai Sevens will spring up across the world and sevens players will become professionals playing for specialist franchises," said Gavin Hastings. Beyond the excitement and adrenaline of the tournaments themselves, Kirwan believes that the secret of the success of sevens lies in its simplicity. "Fifteen-a-side rugby is a very complicated game," he said. "Trying to explain the rules to a ten-year-old boy is almost impossible. Sevens overcomes most of the obstacles to introducing kids to the game. It is easier to play, easier to coach and this in turn makes it easier to introduce into schools."

Gavin Hastings and John Kirwan were in Dubai as ambassadors for HSBC and have been leading coaching clinics for school children in Abu Dhabi. tbrooks@thenational.ae