Sunday, June 30, 2013

Five errors from the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens

Photo IRB
Fiji v South Africa in near empty stadium
Despite having a high growth rate of player numbers and general interest the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow was nothing short of a total disaster. A combination of errors from the global governing body of rugby, the IRB, and local authorities in combination with unfortunately wet weather conditions made the event anything other than a means of celebrating the growing popularity of Rugby Sevens in both the men´s and women´s divisions.

The event made it clear that Russia´s likely bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup will not be successful. The voters would be hard pressed to justify having Russia host a Rugby World Cup. It has dropped well down the list now, with Italy and Ireland being the clear frontrunners from Europe. Neither Ireland nor Italy have hosted a Rugby Sevens World Cup and nor do either host a leg of the Rugby Sevens World Series. Argentina is to return to hosting a leg of the annual world sevens circuit while the South American country also hosted the 2001 World Cup in Mar del Plata. The final day saw 30,000 in attendance, making it much more successful than the 2013 event in Moscow. 

The IRB will be in no hurry to announce the statistics from the three day event in Moscow. The attendance figures, though, are not needed to see just how poorly attended the event was. Television images and photos from the event show a close to empty stadium hosting World Cup matches throughout. The population did not respond to the event and nor were there thousands of visiting fans to help fill the venue. The organizers made a blunder of epic proportions by having the event played at the same time as a Lions tour. Rugby Sevens simply is yet to reach the potential that it could and a large part of this comes back  to governance of the IRB. Indeed, following the inclusion of rugby into the Olympic program the attitude has been mission accomplished. What was accomplished was a small part of the puzzle and not the entire puzzle itself. The tournament lacked supporters and quality television images. There were regular interruptions in the satelite signals, something that will not be acceptable in 2018 when Russia hosts the FIFA World Cup.

A number of factors need to be addressed. Five suggested steps are as follows:

1. Encourage Hosting. Russia was selected as the host over Brazil and Germany to host the event. No other IRB member was interested in hosting the event. While others, such as Scotland, had initially shown interest only Brazil, Germany and Russia made formal bids. At the time one of the central reasons was the performance of the national men´s Russian rugby team in the European Nations Cup. Russia was second in the European tournament behind Georgia and the top two would qualify for Rugby World Cup 2011. Indeed, Russia qualified in February 2010 after it had been allocated hosting rights to the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens two months earlier. As the 2013 event has illustrated more bidders were required. 

2. An Appropriate Stadium. The Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital seats 89,300 but was clearly struggling to attract sell out crowds. It was a reminder of the errors of Rugby World Cup 2007 which saw Scotland play Romania at Murrayfield rather than in a French city. Wales also played Japan in Cardiff while the Welsh capital hosted Canada v Fiji. All of these matches struggled to sell tickets. Tens of thousands were unsold for all three of these matches. French venues, meanwhile, were strongly attended with St. Etienne having a larger crowd for Scotland v Portugal than Murrayfield did for Scotland v Romania. Similarly Wales played in front of bigger crowds in Nantes than it did in its home match against Japan. In other words merely booking a venue does not mean people will respond and attend matches. To the contrary significant resources need to be put into marketing the product. The failure of rugby cities such as Edinburgh and Cardiff should have made this clear yet Moscow did not deliver. A smaller venue in Moscow therefore ought to have been secured. 

3. Local Government. Russia provided the venue and the accomodation but not a lot else. Neither the IRB nor Russia was able to secure noteworthy sponsorship. The low attendances and weather only factored in to a certain extent. While rain fell constantly and the playing surface showed signs of lacking sufficient drainage facilities the seating at the stadium is, nonetheless covered. Local government needed to be engaged with to a much greater extent to see that there were more people in attendance. In the very least free tickets ought to have been given away for the first day of competition. The IRB knew months in advance that the attendance would be poor and could have reacted by working with the local government to give free tickets away to thousands of school children. While Russia hosted the event it was, in the end, an IRB event.

4. World Event. While the Confederations Cup was played in another continent it was nonetheless played at the same time as the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens. Although great efforts were made into seeing the event broadcast worldwide, both on television and on the internet, the tournament was not scheduled at a time that meant it could tap into the soccer off-season. To the contrary it was played at the same time as the mini-FIFA World Cup in Brazil. This decision should not have been able to occur. Ther event had to have been played at a time when it has no international competition from other sporting codes. It had to have taken place during the club season and not during a FIFA international window. This would have made it possible to attract more sponsorship revenue, attract more supporters and have the profile of the event be as huge as it should be.

5. Elite Players. The event needs to call upon the biggest names in the sport. The Sevens World Cup needs to be played at  a time when all competing nations can select their best players. This is the World Cup, a showpiece event and must made to be so. The IRB needs to have it played at a time when players are not in their off-season or involved in training for upcoming international competition. Indeed European professional players are recovering aherad of the 2013-2014 season which starts in August. The exception being those on our with the British and Irish Lions in Australia. The best from the Southern Hemisphere are either facing the Lions or are training ahead of the Rugby Championship. The global authorities need to have the event played when star players from the world over can all play. 


  1. Far too much analysis. It is as simple as rugby in Russia is the equivalent to Handball in the UK.

    Regarding the stadium, the question was asked before here (
    Word is (from a poster who is a very accurate source who is linked to the RUR), that the smaller stadium was unavailable and the IRB were impressed by the idea of a famous well known stadium hosting.

  2. The answers is simple - drop the world cup until after the Olympics then re-assess. Olympic soccer is a non-starter because of the world cup, perhaps with rugby sevens it will be the other way round?

  3. IRB do live in a fantasy world a times - the game is played around the world, but that does not make it a worldwide spectators sport.

    The Women's Sevens World Series was a case in point - two of the four legs run as separate events in cities and countries with little interest in rugby (USA and China). Result - tiny crowds (non-existent in China). OTOH events run at established venues (Dubai and Amsterdam) huge successes.

    The clash with the Lions tour is a red herring - no professional men play sevens, and the TV overlap was not significant.

    Sevens can fill stadia - but small things like the fact that Russian stadia are dry (no alcohol, not a lack of rain!), that visas are a pain to get hold of, and that travel from any major rugby nation is expensive meant this was bound to happen. Germany would have been a far more sensible venue.

    It would be interesting to know why there were no bids from other countries, especially when there is a demand to host rounds of the World Sevens Series.

  4. The problem for Sevens is that most of the people don't really care about it. Rugby union fans in their vast majority even those who are found of 7s will rather support,follow and watch XV's over 7'S anyday. 7's is fun like beach soccer is fun, but beach soccer is not the real thing (soccer) just like sevens is to XV's

  5. The rain was only on the last day by the way, I know as I was there. In fact it was the hottest days in over 100 years, can't blame the weather.