IRB Opens Sevens Series to “Entire World” … Or Does It?

The International Rugby Board had decided to open up the Sevens World Series to all nations in a qualifying tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens. According to the International Rugby Board:

Three teams will advance from a dedicated 12-team regional qualifier finale, securing coveted core team status and joining the current core teams…

Which would increase the number of teams participating in each leg of the Sevens World Series from 12 to 15.

I hate to play the part of the wet blanket on the IRB, but I have to ask –

will this actually result in decreasing the number of countries taking part in Sevens competition?

Each tournament in the IRB Sevens World Series consists of 16 teams, except for the Hong Kong Sevens. By virtue of their being one of the original and best sevens tournaments out there, they have 24 teams participating each year (which is why it is logical that they be the “qualifying tournament”). Until next year’s Sevens World Series, there have been 12 core teams (Argentina, Australia, England, Fiji, France, Kenya, New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, USA, Wales) that get entry into all of the tournaments in the series.  This allows for each hosting country to invite four nations that might otherwise never get to play in an IRB Sevens tournament. Examples of these include teams like Niue, Canada and the Cook Islands. (who beat the USA – one of the “core” teams – last week in Wellington)

By increasing the number of “core” teams, the IRB is actually making it harder for smaller rugby nations to get any experience in international sevens rugby play, despite the claims of making the Sevens Series “Open to All Nations.” It’s almost as if they are answering a question I asked last year, about how the teams will be set for the 2016 Olympics – except they are trying to stack the deck in favor of the “core” teams, which include many rugby powers, plus the U.S. (one of the biggest markets out there) before anyone can do anything.

This appears to qualify for the Benson Hendrix Rugby Supersite’s “What the Hell?” award.

I’d like to see IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset explain the rational behind this, as opposed to giving more nations international experience, and allowing the Olympic qualifiers to be set by region, as many other Olympic sports do.

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