Rough and tumble Rugby Sevens to be featured at Kraków Malopolska 2023 European Games

Twenty-four teams competing in two tournaments in Poland, divided evenly between men and women, will scrum for two Olympic qualification spots at Paris 2024

Argentina's Lautaro Bazan Velez scores a try in the men's pool A rugby sevens match between Australia and Argentina during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo Stadium in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP)
Argentina's Lautaro Bazan Velez scores a try in the men's pool A rugby sevens match between Australia and Argentina during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo Stadium in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP)

Rugby Sevens will “Try” to captivate larger audiences, making its European Games debut at Kraków Malopolska 2023.

The fast-paced, thrilling and fan-friendly sport will be on prominent display, one of 18 Olympic sports to be contested at the third edition of the European Games next summer in Poland, June 21 – July 2.

Enhancing the value, significance and rewards of the competition, the tournaments will serve as qualifiers for the Paris 2024 Games. The agreement was reached between Rugby Europe and the European Olympic Committees (EOC) and announced on July 2nd.

“Thanks to the EOC and the support of World Rugby, the Polish Rugby Union and the local authorities, Sevens rugby will have the opportunity to take center stage once again,” said Rugby Europe president and IOC member Octavian Morariu.

“I would like to thank all the stakeholders who fully supported that the Qualifiers for the Olympics is included in a multi-sport event for the first time. This event will be a wonderful tournament for players and rugby fans.”

Twenty-four teams (12 men, 12 women) will do battle on the pitch in conquest of just two qualification places for Paris 2024. Games will be played at Henryk Reyman Stadium in Kraków, also the venue for this past weekend’s Rugby Europe Men’s Championship Series event, at which Spain won the men’s tournament and tournament host Poland were the surprising victors in the women’s competition.

Rugby Sevens made its’ Olympic debut at Rio 2016. Fiji pummeled Great Britain, 43-7, to win the first Olympic gold medal in the sport. Australia topped New Zealand on the ladies side.

At Tokyo 2020, the Fijian men’s team successfully defended its Olympic title, while New Zealand one-upped its placing from Rio, taking top honors in the women’s tournament.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Rugby Sevens - Men - Medal Ceremony - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - July 28, 2021. Fiji players react after receiving gold medals. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Rugby Sevens - Men - Medal Ceremony - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - July 28, 2021. Fiji players react after receiving gold medals. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“Since its Olympic debut at Rio 2016, Sevens has gone from strength-to-strength and it is a sport that is really capturing the imagination of Europe’s youth, making it a perfect fit for the European Games,” said EOC president Spyros Capralos. “We’re very happy to be working in partnership with President Morariu and Rugby Europe and together we will deliver an unforgettable showcase of elite sport.”

Rugby sevens, or simply sevens, is a faster paced variant of the more traditional, rugby union, in which teams are made up of seven players playing seven-minute halves, instead of the usual 15 players playing 40-minute halves. Rugby sevens originated in Scotland in the 1880s and the original Melrose Sevens tournament is still held annually.

The sport was initially approved for inclusion to the Olympic Program by the IOC Executive Board in 2001. This proposal was tabled by the IOC session, and dismissed at the 2005 IOC session, but it was again brought up in 2009. It was then that the IOC officially approved it for inclusion in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Rugby, or Rugby Union to be specific, was contested at the Olympics in 1900, 1908, 1920, and 1924. France and Australaysia respectively won gold medals in 1900 and 1908, and the United States winning Olympic tournaments in 1920 and 1924.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Rugby Sevens - Women - Gold medal match - New Zealand v France - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - July 31, 2021. Stacey Fluhler of New Zealand scores a try. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Rugby Sevens - Women - Gold medal match - New Zealand v France - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - July 31, 2021. Stacey Fluhler of New Zealand scores a try. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Martin Nowak, the President of the Krakow Malopolska 2023 organizing committee also expressed his excitement about the inclusion of the tough team sport in Krakow.

“It is a great opportunity for us to take a closer look at this spectacular discipline,” Nowak said. “Sevens rugby is an extremely dynamic discipline that quickly grabs fans by the heart.”

Poland has never qualified a team for Rugby Sevens at the Olympics, but will field teams at next summer’s European Games.

The Rugby Europe logo as seen on ball (EOC, Rugby Europe)
The Rugby Europe logo as seen on ball (EOC, Rugby Europe)

The European Games are the EOC’s flagship event. Previous editions have been held in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2015, and Minsk, Belarus, in 2019.

Krakow and the neighboring Malopolska Region were selected to host the third edition of the European Games in 2023 at an extraordinary session of the EOC General Assembly convened in Minsk, Belarus, in June 2019. The National Olympic Committees comprising the EOC were unanimous in their decision.

Follow Brian on Twitter - @brian_pinelli