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Turning point for rugby sevens – US ready for Olympics-inspired revolution

USA Eagles captain Madison Hughes says Americans will go crazy over the sport once they see it at its best in Rio

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 9:35am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 12:39am

The United States rugby sevens team are on the verge of something special. Not only are they bent on Olympic glory but the players realise they are sitting on a gold mine in terms of exploding the game in their home country.

The defending Olympic champions, led by London-born skipper Madison Hughes, know that a strong run in Rio will help sevens capture the hearts of an American public fed on a high-energy diet of American football, basketball and baseball.

A lot of people in the US watch the Olympics and they will see the sevens and hopefully kids will say that’s the sport I want to play
Madison Hughes

Sevens has long played a support role for 15s in terms of popularity but Hughes believes this could be the year the shortened game establishes itself as a globally accepted sporting code in its own right.

“I really think the Olympics has massive potential for the growth of rugby sevens,” said Hughes. “It’s an attractive sport even if you don’t really know the intricacies of rugby. There are a lot of elements of the more popular sports in the US in rugby sevens.

“I’m sure people will see sevens at the Olympics and think that’s awesome and want to see more of it. A lot of people in the US watch the Olympics and they will see the sevens and hopefully kids will say that’s the sport I want to play.

“I can see massive growth for sevens and many years down the line we can look back at 2016 as the turning point for rugby sevens.”

World Rugby and the sport’s major sponsors have been keeping an eye on the US for years. And finally, with sevens in the Olympics, they believe the time is ripe for the coming of age of sevens rugby, where simple rules and non-stop action is perfectly suited to the American sporting palette.

HSBC, for instance, has identified the United States as the growth market for rugby sevens and expect the Olympics to spark massive interest in the game stateside, particularly among women, and help the Americans become a world-class sevens-playing nation.

How fast is Carlin Isles? Watch:

The Eagles can already boast one of the fastest men in world rugby in Carlin Isles, the former track sprinter who has helped his team become a force in the World Rugby Sevens Series.

Nick Sero, communications and digital media manager for USA Rugby, said the sport has experienced double-digit percentage growth over the past few years.

“I really wish we had a real guesstimation of what this will do for us,” said Sero. “We have 350 million people in the United States, 250 million watch the Olympics and 150 million watch sports.

“So you have 150 million people who had no idea about rugby who are now going to tune into what is an incredibly team-oriented game. It’s fun, everybody touches the ball and the sky is the limit for what it’s going to mean to us.

“Sevens for sure has the appeal for the American sporting public because it’s a little bit easier to comprehend in the first take.”

Sero said the growth of sevens in the US is already tangible with dozens of tournaments sprouting throughout the country.