"Probably the most important year for Sevens"

(IRB.COM) Friday 7 March 2014
 "Probably the most important year for Sevens"
Japan and Canada have both signalled their interest in hosting a Series World Series round from 2015/16

Earlier this week the International Rugby Board announced the schedule for the 2014/15 HSBC Sevens World Series and also unprecedented interest by Unions to host an event from the 2015/16 Series or Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018.

Total Rugby Radio caught up with Avan Lee, the IRB's General Manager for Sevens, to discuss the announcements and what they mean for the sport as we countdown down to Rugby Sevens' debut at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

The IRB has moved to announce the dates for the 2014/15 Series much earlier than usual, why is that?

The HSBC Sevens World Series for 2014/15 will actually be a qualification series for the 2016 Olympics so we were very keen to get those dates released for all teams so they are aware of what that Series will look like, plus every year the tournaments are keen to release their dates so it is great to be able to do that for them as well.

How do you think the Olympic qualifying affects the Series in terms of how Unions are talking about it and approaching it?

Look everyone is talking about it, I think we are not too sure about what effect it will have on the Series but we know it will be positive. I think it is a fantastic opportunity for local fans, local sponsors of the individual tournaments. Let’s be honest, it is probably the most important year of Sevens there has ever been so that has got to be great for our sport.

You have also announced a long list of countries interested in hosting the Series from 2015/16, did the scale of interest surprise you?

A little bit. I think we knew it was going to be a large number. We have 25 Unions who are hoping to host a Sevens World Series event in 2015/16 and we also have 14 Unions who are hoping to host Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018. It is great to have the current tournaments that have rebid if you like, and also have countries like France, Fiji, Portugal, Spain and China who have also put their hands up, which is very encouraging.

How likely is it that the mix of venues will change after 2014/15?

We have a fantastic Series as it stands but there is room for some new tournaments in new parts of the world that will add something different to our sport and the series itself. 

One team will be relegated from the Series this season, is there any latest news on what kind of satellite series they might be playing below that top tier?

We are still working on that. It is a very important aspect to this whole piece of work. There needs to be a viable second tier competition and it needs to be complimentary to the Series itself but also to the regional tournaments. We need to find space in the calendar for those events but there needs to be that viable competition for those teams that aren’t in the Series and have the opportunity therefore to move into the Series in future years.

What about the Women’s Series, can we expect something similar soon?

The Women’s Series is different to the men’s, it is at a different stage of its life cycle. We currently have five events on the Women’s Series, we would like that to move up to six for next season. We won’t go through the same tender process that we have been through for the men’s but we are currently working with the current teams and potential hosts to make sure that series is the best it can possibly be.

So, these are exciting times for Sevens right now?

They certainly are, as I said this is probably the most important year of Sevens coming up. We have got unprecedented interest in hosting events in the Series but also the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018 and new countries are coming to us and expressing an interest, wanting to play the sport, take up the sport. We have got countries like Canada and Kenya who are competing with the major rugby nations on the world stage so it is a hugely exciting time for our sport and with the Olympics just over the horizon you can only be positive about the future of our game.