Great Britain in qualifying fight for Olympic sevens

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 December, 2010, 12:00am

England will not be there, neither will reigning world champions Wales. Instead, it will be team Great Britain who will have to qualify along with 11 other men's teams when sevens makes its Olympic debut at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Unless the International Olympic Committee has a change of heart, rugby's return to the Olympic fold will be limited to only 12 men's teams and 12 women's teams - decided after a lengthy regional and worldwide process where each team will have two bites at the cherry.

But at least two places will be freed up by the decision of the International Rugby Board and the International Olympic Committee that the four home unions will have to present a unified team.

'There will be a Great Britain team at the Olympics,' said Mark Egan, the IRB's head of development and performance, on the eve of this week's Emirates Airlines Dubai Sevens. 'And I know all the unions concerned are talking right now on how to achieve this goal.'

It is unlikely rugby will follow the system used by other team sports - hockey, for instance - in Britain where one country represented them all at the Olympic Games.

A unified team is acceptable to Ben Gollings, England's most capped sevens player, who believes the players will come together in search of their common goal - a gold medal.

'It's a tough one and I won't like to be part of those discussions. But I hope they [the four unions] find the right one. For us players, whether Welsh, Scottish, English ... we are all in it vying for the same thing, which is an Olympic gold medal. Hopefully, that is what officials will look at, too,' Gollings said.

The IRB had hoped the Olympics would open its doors to a 16-team format. 'There are no negotiations to increase the number of teams,' Egan said. 'We had looked to a 16- or a 24-team format but we have to follow IOC guidelines. Similarly, with qualifying, with at least one qualifier from each of the five Olympic regions,' Egan said. The final qualifying pathway will not be announced until after the 2012 London Olympics, but is most likely to start in 2014.

'It will be an open, fair and transparent process. What we can say now is that each team will have two chances to qualify,' Egan said.

It is believed after an initial regional phase where the five winners - Asia, Africa, America, Europe and Oceania - will earn direct berths into the Olympics, the others will go into a global qualification round to decide the remaining seven places.

Hong Kong will most likely have to play in the regional qualifiers forAsia and will again have to get past their bogey team Japan if they are to win Asia's direct berth into the Olympics. Japan defeated Hong Kong 28-21 at the Asian Games final two weeks ago and also won the East Asian Games gold medal 26-24 last December.

Egan said a new strategic plan for sevens was being hammered out by a 12-strong team, comprising high-performance managers, coaches and women's officials.

'We look at development, high-performance, competition models, how we leverage the opportunity of the Olympics, how we make sure member unions link sevens growth to 15s,' Egan said.

'The key theme is this is an opportunity to grow the sport, not just sevens. Our current plan has the target of growing membership from 3.5 million to six million by 2020.

'There are 205 National Olympic Committees and rugby has 117 member unions, with Iran just accepted as an associate member, so that makes 118. We have another 80 countries where we can take our sport to.'

Samoa is one of those places and the Pacific Island nation are the world series champions. They start their defence of the title in Dubai today as the HSBC Sevens World Series gets under way.

Samoa have been boosted by the fact that try-machine Mikaele Pesamino has seen his move to English Premiership side Sale Sharks delayed by British immigration officials.