Vancouver welcomes the world for the inaugural Canada Sevens
Canada Sevens CEO Bill Cooper expects the annual rugby event to become “part of the fabric of Vancouver." March 8, 2016. (CTV/Robert Collins)
Published Tuesday, March 8, 2016 4:36PM PST
Last Updated Wednesday, March 9, 2016 1:22PM PST
Two days. Sixteen teams. Twenty-eight thousand fans and counting. Those are the raw numbers ahead this weekend’s inaugural Canada Sevens tournament at BC Place.
Having sold out its initial allocation of tickets, an extra 5,000 Upper Bowl seats went on sale this past weekend; proof positive that even though Vancouver is far from a rugby hotbed, this is a city hungry for a world-class sports event.
Rugby Sevens inclusion in this summer’s Olympics has dramatically increased the sport’s profile. World Cup-winning superstars of the 15-a-side game like Bryan Habana and Sonny Bill Williams will be pulling on South Africa and New Zealand jerseys this weekend as their respective nations prepare for medal campaigns in Rio. For Canada Sevens CEO Bill Cooper, the rising standard on-field action is only one aspect of why the tournament has already exceeded expectations.
“The World Sevens circuit is a very well established tour. That’s what’s so beautiful for Vancouver and Canada. We’re embarking on an event that’s new and exciting, but is still part of an established series. Hong Kong has been hosting a sevens tournament for 40 years, so people know what an entertaining product it is. It’s more like a festival than a sports event. People know that these are bucket list events," Cooper said.
For the uninitiated, Rugby Sevens Tournaments have long been designed with entertainment in mind. Games last 14 fast and furious minutes, ensuring a steady flow of action from different teams. Seats aren’t reserved, encouraging fans to change positions and make new friends. Drinking, although not mandatory, traditionally plays a part. And dress up costumes are highly encouraged. This light-hearted approach to the spectator experience disguises the amount of serious work that went into making the Canada Sevens a reality.
“Two years ago World Rugby invited the entire circuit to rebid for the rights to host one of 10 stops,” continues Cooper. “Twenty-five cities bid for the right to host one of those stops. We weren’t aiming to be the number 10 bid. We wanted to be number one. We knew we had a good stadium, good facilities and the highest calibre of environment for the players.
“We didn’t position ourselves as a rugby hotbed, but as a city that had embraced the Olympics and the FIFA Women’s World cup, had an appetite for world-class sport and took a pride in hosting. The Canada Sevens will be an annual event. It has an opportunity to become part of the fabric of Vancouver. People we spoke to have told us that this event will replace the Molson Indy and that it’s going to become our TIFF.”
If there’s one element that will keep fans coming back, it’s a strong showing from Team Canada. They may not be a traditional powerhouse, but the results from last weekend’s Las Vegas Sevens, including Kenya defeating mighty New Zealand, demonstrate that in this game, anything is possible.
“Canada’s prospects are on the rise,” insists Cooper. “The games are short and dynamic enough so that what might be call upsets in other sports do happen. Fiji and New Zealand will be favourites, but any team on the tour is capable of beating them. The U.S. and Canada have proved they can beat those nations in the past six months. The idea is for Team Canada turn up to play for the Cup. 28,000 loyalists behind them will be a big tool in that equation. When that squad takes the field in BC place there’ll be a huge number of rugby newbies seeing a performance that will make them proud to wear the Canada jersey.”
With media and fans arriving from across the globe, this is more than an opportunity to increase rugby’s profile in Canada. It’s a chance to showcase the best of the city. Cooper is confident both will happen.
“I think this tournament is going to make the world fall a little bit more in love with Vancouver.”
The 2016 Canada Sevens will be held at BC Place on March 12 and 13. Upper Bowl tickets are currently available. Tournament highlights will appear over the weekend on TSN.