The popularity of rugby sevens is set explode after the Rio Olympics, with growth centres such as China and United States poised to take the game to a whole new generation of fans. In addition, women are set to become the primary growth driver for the sport, which is forecast to be played by 15 million people by 2026. These predictions are provided by Hong Kong Sevens co-sponsor and World Sevens Series sponsor HSBC, which teamed up with strategic planning consultancy The Futures Company to produce a report “The Future of Rugby” that aims to outline the game’s future over the next 10 years and beyond. China and USA will take the sport to a new orbit. The Olympic opportunity is part of an exciting growth trajectory for the sport. Its future is about new countries, new players and new audiences Giles Morgan, HSBC “China and USA will take the sport to a new orbit,” said Giles Morgan, global head of sponsorship and events at HSBC. “The Olympic opportunity is part of an exciting growth trajectory for the sport. Its future is about new countries, new players and new audiences,” Potentially a billion people could be watching rugby sevens at the Olympics, which is the first event of the Rio programme. And if the tournament is anywhere near as successful as that of the Hong Kong Sevens, which Morgan described as “the grandfather” of world sevens, the sport’s allure is expected to reach people who may have never seen a game of rugby in their lives. “The Olympic Games is really the launchpad and with the HSBC report expecting women to make up 40 per cent of global participation, the future of the game is very exciting,” said Brian O’Driscoll, the former Ireland and Lions captain. By researching data and conducting interviews with industry experts including Sir Clive Woodward and sporting greats such as Olympic legend Michael Johnson, it has examined rugby’s journey to becoming a global game and paints a picture of how rugby will evolve and grow over the next decade. Sevens is this sleeping giant of rugby. I think Rio will be a huge event and act as the springboard to take it really global. Sevens attracts a different crowd from fifteens Sir Clive Woodward England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup-winning coach Woodward said: “Sevens is this sleeping giant of rugby. I think Rio will be a huge event and act as the springboard to take it really global. Sevens attracts a different crowd from fifteens. It may overtake fifteens if you think about the number of people playing and its popularity. I see that as a good thing. It’s a simpler game, it’s easier to play and it attracts a lot more players.” The inclusion of men’s and women’s rugby sevens in the 2016 Olympic Games has been a trigger for both funding and development. World Rugby has invested more than £350 million across the game at all levels between 2009 and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, with significant additional financial support coming from National Olympic Associations. During that time participation has doubled, growing from three and a half million to more than seven million rugby union players globally. commented Giles Morgan, Global Head of Sponsorship and Events at HSBC. “The incredible thing about rugby’s growth in the last three years is that almost half of it has been fuelled by increases in women’s participation. The number of female players has gone from 200,000 to 1.7 million in that time, with sevens acting as the perfect catalyst. It has been nothing short of explosive and we believe this will continue.” The incredible thing about rugby’s growth in the last three years is that almost half of it has been fuelled by increases in women’s participation Giles Morgan By 2026, the HSBC report also predicts: More nations breaking through - Countries such as China and Brazil, which are using the Olympic opportunity to drive funding into the game, will be competitive in both men’s and women’s sevens. Broadcast pyrotechnics will transform coverage - TV coverage will better capture the excitement of the sevens’ spectator experience, with on-player cameras showing off players’ speed and athleticism to help connect the sport with new audiences. Media value will move to social platforms - Sevens content will mostly be hosted on, and consumed through, social platforms. We will also see the development of a sevens-based e-gaming community and sevens-based video game. Sevens will emerge as a summer sport in its own right - As sevens grows in visibility and reputation, it will start to drive revenues in its own right, from attendances, media and sponsorship sales. This will be enhanced by the development of national sevens competitions between clubs or franchises leagues, and by the emergence of sevens as a summer sport. World Rugby, the sport’s global governing body, views Olympic Games inclusion as a game-changer for the sport in terms of profile, engagement and participation and will be a catalyst to reach new markets.