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World Rugby reveal major shake-up of Sevens format

By Ian Cameron
Fiji players run onto the field before playing Japan on the first day of the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament on November 4, 2022. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP) (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)

World Rugby have revealed a major shake-up of the Rugby Sevens World Series format which is set to be introduced at the end of 2023. The new schedule will see the number of host cities reduced to seven as the organisation bids to simplify and improve the current offering. Crucially, both male and female athletes will be paid the same.

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The number of teams competing in the men’s World Series will also drop from 16 to 12, mirroring the number of teams that qualify for the Olympic Games every four years.

As part of the shake-up, there will be the introduction of a two-league system with promotion and relegation. Sides from the elite 12-team World Series can be relegated to the Challenger Series and likewise, Challenger Series contenders can be promoted to the World Series.

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Speaking to RugbyPass, Richard Heaselgrave, the World Rugby chief revenue and fan engagement officer, said the new format was about entertainment and simplifying the product for both rugby fans and people new to the sport, summing up the new vision as: “Food, music and mass participation at seven iconic venues around the world, venues you would want to go to.”

Host events will take place over three days and will be as much about entertaining the fans off the field as on it, with festival-style music and off-field entertainment and food central to programming. The aim for each venue is to host at least 80,000 fans across the span of three days.

The new vision for the tournament came about as the result of two seasons of forced introspection care of the global pandemic. “After about two years over the course of the pandemic, the rugby world consulted to get Sevens to be more popular. Simple as that. Popular in terms of fan engagement and fans watching and also in terms of the profitability of the series, so that we can pay Sevens players more money to compete so they can have a more aspirational career in rugby.

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World Rugby have looked at the current circuit venues – at what has worked and what hasn’t. “We wanted to look at not just the size of the events that could be staged at a venue, but also to introduce the sport to new markets,” continued Heaselgrave.

Key to the new premise is equal pay for both male and female athletes, with World Rugby paying unions the same amount for the men’s and women’s programmes. “The basic principle of the new model is we pay the athletes 70 per cent more [than current wages], that’s baked into the business model.

“Unless it’s a dream that boys and girls around the world can play sevens and for it to be a viable career, you will lose athletes to other sports. Key to this is no gender difference. We pay the men and the women the same. The conditions are exactly the same for the men and women, and that’s a first for Sevens.”

The venues are yet to be finalised, with the World Series competing in its current format for one more season.

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