The Marriott London Sevens, which concluded on Sunday 17 May, was the finale of a banner year for rugby sevens with the United States winning its first ever tournament; Fiji winning the overall 2014/15 HSBC World Sevens Series title for the first time since 2006 under head coach and Loughborough University alumnus Ben Ryan, and last but not least, England qualifying for Team GB for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Three different storylines, but all under one main theme – rugby sevens’ Olympic status has increased the global profile of rugby. 

World Rugby (formerly known as the International Rugby Board) seeks to capitalise on the growing appeal of the abbreviated game, especially smaller and new rugby markets. One way they are doing this is by formulating an investment strategy around high performance of rugby sevens. Ben Corbett, Lecturer at Loughborough University London’s new Institute for Sport Business is leading a study on behalf of World Rugby to assist in developing that strategy. Teamed up with Associate Professor Danny O’Brien and Dr. Lisa Gowthorp from Australia’s Bond University, the study investigates the efficacy of current high performance systems in over 30 nations from all six Olympic qualifying regions.

The study entails surveying men’s and women’s national team players, coaches, administrators and high performance staff on areas such as competition structures, team servicing, and facilities. So far over 400 people have participated in the survey, with another 45 interviews providing detailed information on what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and what direction each sevens programme is headed. 

One programme that has emerged has been a central residency system, where national team players are centrally contracted by the national rugby union and relocated to a full-time training facility. This system grew out of necessity due to the lack of elite sevens competitions and coaches that could prepare sevens athletes for the increasingly specific skill set required to compete internationally.

However, there have been growing pains. As one head coach said, “sevens has only been taken seriously for about three years now, so it’s been a trial by fire. We definitely made some mistakes, and initially spent money on the wrong things.” 

World Rugby wants to try to assist nations to make proper decisions, and this study will be a foundation for consultation and funding programmes directed at specific high performance initiatives.

Data collection is now complete, and the final report is due by 31 July 2015 to World Rugby.                                                                                                                  
Ben Corbett, Lecturer at Loughborough University London’s new Institute for Sport Business (@LboroSportBiz

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