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Athletes see rugby sevens' Rio debut as turning point for their sport

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Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - The Olympic debut of fast-paced rugby sevens at the Rio Games could prove to be a turning point for the sport and widen its appeal, athletes from New Zealand and the United States said Wednesday.

Rugby union, the popular version with 15 players, was an Olympic discipline until the 1920s. Now the sport is making a comeback in Rio de Janeiro with its 7-player version.

"I think its going to change the landscape in terms of 15s and 7s," said New Zealand forward Sonny Bill Williams, a rugby union player who is also part of the Rio sevens squad.

"I think after these Olympics, and probably the next ones, there is going to be a lot more kids wanting to be rugby Olympians," Williams told reporters.

"I think it‘s a very attractive product, it‘s something that‘s very visually exciting," US team captain Madison Hughes said.

"I think we‘re going to look back somewhere down the line and see Rio 2016 as a real turning point for rugby sevens," he said.

Reigning sevens World Cup champions New Zealand are among the favourites for gold in Rio, along with 2015-16 World Series winners Fiji.

However, the field of top contenders is wide open, New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens said.

"The game is so, so competitive now, which is great for the sport," he said.

A dozen mens‘ teams will compete in Rio from Tuesday to Thursday next week: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Fiji, France, Britain, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa and the US.

The women‘s tournament, which starts Saturday, features Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Spain, Fiji, France, Britain, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand and the US.



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(21.04.2021 08:59)

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