With less contact and mixed gender teams, touch rugby offers a point of difference to sevens. But would it cut the mustard in the Olympics? Read our Face-off debate
Could touch replace sevens in the Olympics?
YES, says the chief executive of England Touch
“The ultimate aspiration for the Olympics is absolutely there. One big draw is that touch, in the structured sense, has a number of different age groups, so you are transferring all the way through from youth to over-50s.
“But the big one is the inclusivity from a gender perspective; the mixed sport with three men and three women on the pitch at the same time is different from most other team sports and for any code of rugby. That is the real appeal.
“Touch isn’t going to be a professional sport and that is the joy of it. It goes to the heart of the Olympic, accessible ethos. Sevens is a phenomenal sport but hasn’t made the impact that I expected. The number of people playing hasn’t increased that much over the years and it feels like it has been marginalised a bit, whereas touch can provide an entry level for anybody who might want to pick up an oval ball.
“They can complement each other but the challenge from an Olympic perspective is that the two games are quite close, so do you have one or the other?
“The mixed version is a difference and you could see that playing a role in the Olympics or Commonwealth Games. They have mixed triathlons and swimming relays, and that is where touch could play a role. There is minimal contact and it’s safe to play in those environments.
“The aspiration is the Olympics and 2032 in Brisbane is an ideal target. Australia is the home of touch but other nations are closing – there are 51 countries in the international federation. If you look at the global reach, it has got huge potential.”
NO, says the former England Sevens captain
“With all the heat that rugby has got lately with inclusivity and concussion, I wouldn’t want to be that person who’s set in their ways and says they could never do that. I love touch, with its strategy and movement, but it wouldn’t really feel like rugby for me.
“It would mean rugby would still have a place in the Olympics and it is more inclusive. But the concept of a touch is difficult and subjective. A tackle is a tackle and obvious.
“The Olympic carrot is critical and if you lose it you go from being perceived as a majority sport to a minority sport.
“But sevens has to up its game. They’ve missed an opportunity to do more with the game – there was a real opportunity, with the Olympic carrot, for them to rip up the script and revamp the sport.
“The challenge is that the sport is brilliant in isolation but tournaments are far too long, lasting from 8am to 8pm, and no fan is going to stay and follow that. There needs to be more jeopardy, you lose and you are out, but some countries might not play because that makes it hard to justify a four-year spend.
“You don’t need to have the same rules as 15s. You could bring in specialist drop-kickers or power plays. Or you could have specialist scoring zones – if you kick in front of the posts you get one point but from the halfway line it’s five. You could have a captain’s challenge on the pitch. Why not mix it up? There is a real opportunity to things differently.”
Face-off: Could touch replace sevens in the Olympics? We want to know what YOU think. Email your views to rugbyworldletters@futurenet
This debate first appeared in the September 2023 issue of Rugby World