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Rugby’s Olympic Downfall and Rise

Back in 1900, rugby was included as a sport discipline on the Olympic Games, only in the masculine category, thanks to Pierre de Coubertin (the official father of the modern Olympic games as we know them); he was such a passionate fan of the sport, not only because of the game itself but also, for all that it includes and the values within it. Just for these reasons, rugby was considered an Olympic sport in the Olympics of 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924.

However, by the year 1924, some incidents happened that made the International Olympics Commission reverse the decision to accept the sport. There was the case of a match between the French and North American teams, with a crowd of over 45.000 people who had come to see the game and the USA’s national anthem was booed by some attendees. The tension in the air could be felt, the atmosphere between the spectators and players was pretty heavy and there was a lot of aggression in the game field.

That escalated quickly. As the minutes on the counter passed, Gideon Nelson from the USA team, made a very violent and dangerous tackle, in consequence, his teammate Alan Valentine, acted brutally with intent to do harm against the French player Adolphe Jauréguy, who lost consciousness and suffered an important wound.

By the final whistle, the French player Allan Muhr described the match with a phrase that became legendary, he alleged that it was the best that could be done without knives or handguns. Besides the USA’s team won the match and became the only team with two golden medals in the sport, this match was not considered a respectable rugby game, the whole situation was considered an affront to the values of the sport by the Olympic Commission, so they decided to drop off this discipline for the next Olympics.

There were subsequent attempts to include rugby again in the Olympic Games. Its inclusion in the Games of Amsterdam was rejected. In Berlin 1936 a tournament was held that was not even considered an exhibition sport.

Some countries presented different proposals to include rugby in the Games again: Italy in the 1960 Games, the URSS in the 1980s and South Korea in 1988. In 1988, the International Rugby Board (IRB) refused its inclusion alleging that one of its rules establishes that the players have a period of seven days of rest between matches, and it would be impossible to hold a tournament within such a limited period. Therefore, the inclusion of rugby sevens was considered at the time.

Nonetheless, on August 13, 2009, during the XIII Congress of the International Olympic Committee, it was recommended to include back rugby sevens as an Olympic discipline. The decision was made in Copenhagen in October of that year and finally, the committee announced that in the games of Rio 2016 and soon Tokio 2020, the rugby was to go back to the list of Olympic sports. 92 years later the gentleman’s sport, saw the Olympic flames again.

Some remarkable news for the female rugby teams was that the female category of rugby sevens was to be included in the competition. The female team that took home the gold medal that year was Australia, meanwhile, the champion on the masculine was the Fiji team. An awesome return for a beloved sport that had spent too much time in the shadows.