With automatic Olympic qualification for Paris 2024 at stake and expanded men’s and women’s tournaments, former England ace Rob Vickerman is excited about what next season will bring.
The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series expert has experienced the competition as a player, commentator and fan and believes 2023 has the potential to be bigger and better than any before as the sport comes through a couple of difficult years due to COVID-19.
The men’s competition has been expanded to include 11 tournaments, including two at key series venue Hong Kong, while for the first time ever, the women’s competition will be made up of seven rounds, four of them on the same weekend as the corresponding men’s event.
“Once again we are into Olympic qualification conversations which changes the conversation around rugby sevens. But moreover, it’s redemption, it’s back to what it was, and not only that, it’s super-charged.
“As a sevens player, you commit a lot of your life to getting to the levels of supreme fitness and athleticism that you need to be at. And it feels as though for two years, it's just been on hold and there’s been a massive hole in their lives and obviously for supporters, but it feels as though we’re back on what is truly the travelling circus and there aren’t any caveats.
“Every conversation we have had around sevens in the last couple of years, there has always been ‘what if's’, but we are now looking at a full schedule from November through to May, and it’ll come on the back of a Commonwealth Games and an impressive series finale, which is still to play out, and then on towards the Olympics again.”
Olympic qualification adds tremendous value
The top four men’s and women’s teams at the season’s end will earn automatic tickets to Paris 2024, which will make the circuit more competitive than ever, according to Vickerman.
“For players who aspire to Olympic qualification, it makes every single moment matter more.
“When you do go to the higher echelons of sport and the top of the podium, where you want to be, you become much more accountable.
“Every single session you have a different focus and a longer-term plan. When you set those longer-term goals as a player it filters down to everything you do.
“So it is very exciting from the players’ perspective and what they are experiencing, but again to be able to talk about sevens alongside the other iconic moments of world sport, you never get bored of that.
“It’s brilliant to see how that can galvanise players and the sport itself. Having witnessed the last two Olympic Games the story from most of the games is that sevens is the perfect fit. It feels as though the Olympic Games has a long-established member of the family.”
Double cause for celebration in Hong Kong
While new tournament locations continue to be added to the World Series, Hong Kong still remains THE one in many people’s eyes.
The men’s series will begin in Hong Kong at the start of November and both men’s and women’s teams will be present there for the traditional blockbusting weekend at the end of March/early April.
Vickerman has been fortunate to play on the Series there three times and has been back many times since.
“It’s so good, they put it in twice!” he exclaimed.
“For many people who are casual viewers of sevens, Hong Kong is still the crown jewel, it is still the thing that everybody holds dear because of its history as a sevens venue. It’s always the best one, it is always the one that provides the best entertainment around the rugby and it is hard to replicate the atmosphere that the 50,000 people in the stadium create.”
As for the growth in the women’s World Series, Vickerman is delighted that due recognition is being paid.
“It’s a massive step. I think having seen the transition of how women have grown in the game of sevens and on the biggest stage of sevens, it's completely right to be looking at it as a co-event. They’ve now got seven rounds, and from where they were previously, it is a recognition that women’s sevens is equally competitive.”