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Rugby union has been a mens medal sport at the modern Summer Olympic Games, being played at four of the first seven competitions. The sport debuted at the 1900 Paris games. It subsequently featured at the London games in 1908marker, the Antwerp games in 1920 and the Paris games in 1924. Shortly after the 1924 games, the International Olympic Committeemarker (IOC) canceled rugby union as an Olympic sport. There have been numerous attempts to bring the sport back to the Olympic program. The most recent have been for the inclusion of the sevens version of the sport, which is played at similar competitions such as the Commonwealth Games. The IOCmarker voted at its session in Copenhagenmarker in October 2009 to include sevens for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Introduction in 1900 and the 1908 games

The sport was introduced by Pierre De Coubertin, who is famous for reviving the modern Olympics. He also helped to establish rugby in France, his most notable achievements were refereeing the first domestic French club championship in 1892 and France’s first international, on New Year’s Day, 1906 at Parc des Princesmarker. Coubertin formed the IOC in 1894, but rugby union would not be featured until the II Olympiad.


Three National Olympic Committees (NOC) each entered a team at the 1900 games. They were France, Germany and Great Britain. The German and British teams were not national teams in the current sense of the word, but represented by clubs. Mosley Wanderers RFC played for Britain, while the Frankfurt Club represented Germany. Rules were also different from today's, with 3 points for both tries and penalties, 2 points for a conversion and 4 for a drop goal.

France won the gold, beating Great Britain 27 points to eight and defeating Germany 27 points to 17. The final round robin match, between Germany and Britain was never played, as the teams were unable to stay in Paris until the scheduled match date. Other sources list the German team as second, because of the points difference, but no such determination was made in 1900. 6,000 people watched the game between France and Great Britain, which was the largest crowd at the games. Constantin Henriquez de Zubiera, a player on the French team, is the first known coloured athlete to compete in the Olympic Games.


Rugby union was not played at the 1904 games in St. Louismarker, nor at the 1906 Intercalated Games, but was included in 1908, when the Olympics were held in the sport's native country. The Rugby Football Union (RFU) was involved in the organization of the sport at this edition of the Olympics.
1908 Olympic Gold Final Wallabies v Cornwall.
Like the 1900 games, three teams entered: Australasia (representing Australia and New Zealand), France, and Great Britain (which included the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker). France pulled themselves from the event prior to the commencement of the tournament, being unable to field a representative team. Australasia's team, the Wallabies, was already on tour in Britain, while the best Anglo-Welsh players were on tour in New Zealand at the time. Great Britain was therefore represented by the Cornwall county team, who were chosen by the RFU as an appropriate side after they defeated Durhammarker in the 1907 English county championship. The choice of Cornwall was controversial, as only three of their players had ever represented England, as well as the fact that Australia, who had been on a tour of the United Kingdom, had defeated them 18 points to five.

As expected, Australasia defeated Great Britain, claiming the gold medal, the score being 32 points to three. The match at the White City Stadium was played under poor conditions, in fog and with a slippery field.

Two of the Australian team members would later win another Olympic gold medal. Danny Carroll would win another rugby gold with the United States in 1920, while Sydney Middleton would win a gold medal in rowing at the 1912 Games, where rugby was not on the program. The sport also failed to appear on the provisional schedule of the 1916 Summer Olympics, which were canceled due to World War I.

USA victory in 1920 and 1924

1920 USA Rugby Team.


A campaign to send an American side to the 1920 games in Antwerpmarker started in Californiamarker after a rugby union Cal-Berkeleymarker touring party returned from British Columbiamarker undefeated in 1920. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) granted permission for entry. A pool of players from Stanfordmarker, Cal-Berkeleymarker and Santa Claramarker made up the squad. 1908 champion Danny Carroll, a player-coach at Stanford at the time, was the team's most prominent member. When the U.S. arrived in Antwerp, the Czechoslovakianmarker and Romanian teams had withdrawn, leaving only France and the United States. The English RFU had decided not to enter a team as not to interfere with the start of their domestic season.

The only match was played in rain in front of around 20,000 spectators. The U.S., featuring many players new to the sport of rugby, caused a shock by winning the only match eight points to zero, all points being scored in the second half. One of the U.S. team members, Morris Kirksey, took home two more medals from Antwerp, finishing second to Charles Paddock in the 100 meter dash, and anchoring the winning 4 × 100 meter relay team.


The sport was again included in the subsequent 1924 games in Paris. The USOC decided to send a team in order to defend their gold medal. Along with the U.S. and the host nation, Romania entered. The American team was again made up of mainly Californian players, seven of whom were members of the 1920 team. The U.S. squad departed on a seven-day voyage to England on an ocean liner from New York Citymarker.

The U.S. soundly defeated Romania 37 to 0 in front of a crowd of 6,000. France then defeated Romania 61 to 3. France entered the game as favorites to win. The gold medal game was played in front of 21,000 spectators at the Colombes venue which had a large wire fence built around the field for the game on 18 May. The U.S. defeated France 17 to 3, becoming the only team to win gold twice in the sport.

At the final whistle the score was 17 - 3 to the States. The pitch was invaded and the French team,aided by the police, did their best to protect their opponents. The Medal ceremony took place with police protection – Gold USA, Silver France and Bronze Romania.

The dreadful image that the 1924 Paris Olympics had given of rugby coincided with the departure of Baron Pierre De Courbetin as head of the Olympic Movement. (The Baron had created the Olympics and was a big rugby fan, having both played and refereed himself. He had refereed the first ever International match in Paris). Together with the problems of attracting sufficient teams to make it a viable sport, this spelled the death knell for rugby at the Olympics. [4].

Subsequent games

The IOC removed the sport following the Paris Games. Pierre De Coubertin stepped down after 1925, which may have also hurt the sport's chances for inclusion. In 1928 the IOC turned down a request to stage rugby at the Amsterdam games. At the 1936 Games in Berlinmarker, there was an exhibition tournament held, with France, Germany, Italy and Romania competing. The French team beat Germany in the final 19 to 14.

In 1976, 22 African countries and Guyanamarker boycotted the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montrealmarker, after their demand to have New Zealand excluded was not met. A New Zealand rugby team had toured South Africa, which had been banned from the Olympics since 1964 because of its apartheid politics. Rugby union not being an Olympic sport, the IOC declined to exclude New Zealand.

Efforts for inclusion

Italy in 1960, the Soviet Unionmarker in 1980, and South Korea in 1988 made requests to have rugby union brought back. The 1980 request did not pass, and the 1988 games came close but failed to see the sport's admission, which was backed by the International Rugby Football Board (now, International Rugby Board, IRB).

Besides the individual host cities' requests, the IRB didn't focus its own efforts to return the sport to the Olympics until the early 1990s, when efforts began to reunite the two movements with a series of informal meetings between the then IRB Secretary, Keith Rowlands, and the British Olympic Association Secretary, Dick Palmer. In 1994 when Vernon Pugh QC of Wales was elected Chairman of the IRB, the march towards Olympic recognition began in earnest. Pugh convinced the IRB Council that Olympic membership – initially as a non-participation sport would be beneficial to rugby and offer the IRB member Unions membership to their National Olympic Committees. Many European Federations, of the likes of France, Italy and Romania, had been members of their National Olympic Committees for decades. The fact that membership to the National Olympic bodies has been beneficial for rugby in these countries is well documented. The demand to get rugby back in the Olympics mounted as more rugby nations from Africa, Asia, Oceania and Americas joined the IRB. The pressure was particularly strong in North America as the USA are the reigning Olympic Champions.

A significant step in the process of acceptance back into the Olympic Movement was achieved at a ceremony held in Cardiff in November 1994, when the IRB was officially confirmed as a Recognised International Federation of the IOC. At that ceremony, International Olympic Committee President, Juan-Antonio Samaranch, pointed out that rugby's history and values were very much in tune with the Olympic philosophy and traditions. This historic meeting in Cardiff led to IRB representation at annual IOC meetings and consideration for inclusion in the program of future Olympic Games. In 2002, a plan was presented to induct rugby sevens, golf and the Chinese martial art of wushu.

Sevens was one of five sports that submitted a proposal to the IOC at a meeting in Singaporemarker for inclusion in the 2012 games. The IOC stated that no sport would be added unless others were dropped. The IRB was confident that the sport would finally be included in the official Olympic program. However, the selection of two sports out of the five nominees as potential 2012 sports went to squash and karate, as determined by a voting procedure.

Most recently, rugby sevens competed with golf for two available spaces in the 2016 Olympics. The final decision was made at the IOC Session in Copenhagen in October 2009. The IRB used a number of high profile people and events to influence the IOC to include sevens at the 2016 games. In March 2009, two senior delegates from the IOC attended the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Dubai at the invitation of the IRB. The event attracted 78,000 fans over the 3 days and saw Wales crowned Men’s World Champions and Australia won the first ever Womens World Cup.

Along with the World Cup the IRB have enlisted some of rugby’s biggest names to assist in the bid. In March 2009, Jonah Lomu and Lawrence Dallaglio were announced as ambassadors for the bid and in April 2009 Waisale Serevi was unveiled as an ambassador to coincide with the Oceania National Olympic Committees general assembly. May 2009 saw the IRB announce that they would drop the Rugby World Cup Sevens in order to improve the chances of the sport being included in the 2016 games. The benefit of this move would be to make the Olympics the premier event in international rugby sevens.

On the 13th of August 2009 it was announced that rugby sevens would be recommended for inclusion in the 2016 Olympic Games.

At the 121st IOC Session on October 9th, 2009 in Copenhagenmarker, the IOC voted to include Rugby Sevens for the 2016 games. Competitions for men and women will be conducted in a similar format to the existing IRB Sevens World Series. The IRB's original proposal called for including 12 teams of each sex. During the IRB's presentation at the IOC Session, two members of the IOC asked why only 12 teams were included. IRB Chief Executive Mike Millar responded, "We followed the guidance of the Executive Members of the IOC, but if the IOC feels we should have more teams, we will add more."





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Only players who participated in at least one match are counted.


External links

1900 Paris
not awarded
1904 St. Louis not included in the Olympic program
1908 London
not awarded
1912 Stockholm not included in the Olympic program
1920 Antwerp
not awarded
1924 Paris
3 3 0 64 3 +61 2 2
5 3 2 116 53 +63 1 2 3
1 1 0 32 3 +29 1 1
2 0 2 11 59 -48 2 2
1 0 1 17 27 -10 1 1
2 0 2 3 98 -95 1 1
Nations - 3 - 2 - 2 3 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Rugby union players - 47 - 30 - 31 54 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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