Rugby: No men's World Sevens Series until after Olympics with October opening leg in Singapore

LONDON (REUTERS) – The next World Rugby Sevens Series will kick off in Singapore after all.

The men’s series is now scheduled to begin in Singapore on Oct 29 and 30, followed by joint men’s and women’s rounds in Hong Kong (Nov 5-7), Dubai (Dec 3-4), and the finale in Cape Town (Dec 10-12).

This means the men’s rugby sevens at the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead with the teams having not played a world series match for 16 months, after the dates for a delayed and condensed 2021 series were announced on Wednesday (March 3).

The organisers had initially hoped to kick off the series – which has comprised of 10 stops since the 2015-16 season – in Hong Kong and Singapore in April. But the Singapore leg had been moved back last December amid the coronavirus pandemic to become the penultimate stop before the series finale in Hong Kong.

Despite the changes, women players will have a chance to warm up for Tokyo with back-to-back tournaments in Paris in May.

World Rugby announced that five women’s and four men’s rounds have been finalised, with the addition of two more men’s events still under discussion.

After the Paris women’s events on May 15-16 and May 22-23, the series takes a break for the Olympic repechage in June – the final qualification event ahead of the Tokyo Games which begin on July 23.

With 21 of the 24 teams already qualified, the remaining two women’s and one men’s spots will be determined in Monaco on June 19 and 20.

Additional world series events could be held in London and Vancouver after the Olympics.

The governing body also confirmed that it was investing US$4 million (S$5.3 million) in Olympic qualified unions’ sevens programmes and towards setting up high-performance events to give teams some playing time ahead of the Olympics.

The first of these was held in Madrid last month, with another scheduled for Los Angeles at the end of June.

New Zealand are the defending world series champions of both the men’s and women’s competitions after the 2020 campaign was called off with five of the eight women’s rounds and six of the 10 men’s rounds completed, before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Japan will join as a core team following their promotion from the Challenger Series in 2020, while it has been agreed that in this Olympic year, the England, Scotland and Wales teams will combine to compete as Britain in both the men’s and women’s series in 2021.

This will create two additional invitational places for teams to participate in the men’s 2021 series, with the teams to be announced in due course.

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Britain lost to Fiji in the final of the inaugural 2016 Olympic men’s event, with Australia beating New Zealand to win the women’s gold.

“The health, safety and well-being of players, fans and the wider community remains our top priority,” World Rugby interim chief executive Alan Gilpin said in a statement.

“All stakeholders will continue to closely monitor global developments with the Covid-19 pandemic and work closely with host governments and health agencies to ensure a safe, secure and highly impactful return.

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“As a key driver of game growth, particularly in emerging markets, the continued success of rugby sevens and the sevens series is a strategic priority for World Rugby.

“This unique Olympic year provides a huge opportunity to reach new audiences around the world and introduce them to the speed, skill and excitement of rugby sevens, encouraging them to become future fans of the series.”

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