We are most of the way through what can only be described as a momentous Olympics for Team GB, and the eyes of the rugby world are already turning their thoughts to Brazil 2016 and the introduction of the Seven a side game to the the world’s biggest sporting stage.
No doubt the thought has crossed the minds of players from both the sevens and XVs game of donning Team GB colours, in fact Ben Foden recently announced on Twitter he’d love the opportunity to be there (albeit without having yet put the hard work in). But whilst I’m sure there is no shortage of players who would be willing to try and win the first rugby sevens gold medal it does leave me wondering one thing – not who will they pick, but how will they pick them?
Speaking to people at my local club the answer is simple where the football selection was not – assemble a Lions sevens team. That won’t fully work as the Lions also represent Ireland and Ireland take their own teams to the games. Northern Irish hockey players can elect to play for Ireland or GB, so perhaps a similar option would be available to any who fancied turning out in Sevens (Ireland does not currently compete on the IRB circuit).
Plus simply putting together a Lions team and assuming they will be accepted into the competition is naive, as teams will likely have to qualify first and we’re not on home soil.
For athletes and teams to compete in the Olympics they have usually won some sort of qualifying competition, for example in the football the European teams will have got to certain stages in the UEFA under 21s Football Championship. Using this sort of logic (and assuming there are no strange age restrictions) an obvious qualification route for any sevens team wishing to take part in the Olympics would be through the European or IRB Sevens Series or similar events. Now that’s very simple for most countries, but Britain isn’t most countries. “Great Britain” doesn’t take part in those competitions, the home nations compete individually. So how would we qualify? Would there have to be a Lions team competing on the IRB circuit alongside or instead of the Welsh, Scottish and English Sevens Squads? The process of any temporary unification should be at least eased due to the co-operation between Unions already present with the Lions.
As with the football we could qualify through one Union’s side, the Team GB football side qualifies for Olympic games through England’s position, as the FA is responsible for the team – normally they choose not to enter one because of the politics involved with both the SFA and FIFA. Could the same thing happen with the sevens, and a GB side qualify through on say England’s rankings?
Working out how the teams qualify is the first part of the nightmare, then you have the selection processes. Could regular 15s players just drop in or would it be limited to just sevens players? Should star power be allowed to overrule those who toil weekly on the circuit. Should it be like Olympic football, or Olympic basketball? And who qualifies to play for which country (could Visser play for the Netherlands?). Will Colin Gregor and Andy Turnbull – our genuine class Sevens players – still be around in 2016?
Luckily this isn’t my problem. I’ve just got to worry about how I’m going to get to Brazil and enjoy some sun-soaked, samba-soundtracked Sevens.
Additional reporting: Rory Baldwin