Rugby’s origin is directly linked to that of football – after all, before it was played only with the feet, the world’s most popular sport was also played with the hands. It all began in 1823, when a school in the English town of Rugby created a new way of playing football, which would become what we now know as Rugby.
Four decades later, the removal of two football rules by the Football Association, established to standardise football’s rules throughout the world, were fundamental to giving rugby its own identity: the ban on the use of hands and the tackle, which allowed players to grab opponents and pull them to the ground in order to get the ball from them.
The year 1871 saw the establishment of the Rugby Football Union, the first entity to regulate the new sport. In 1886, the International Rugby Football Board was founded in order to establish a set of rules. Despite creating the sport, England only joined the Rugby Football Board four years later, as it refused to have the same voting rights as Scotland, Ireland and Wales, which had fewer teams in the entity.
Rugby’s rules have changed over time. New features include a reduction in the number of players on each team from 20 to 15, in 1877, changes to the points scoring system, and the adoption of an oval ball.
Rugby’s entry in the Olympic Games had a powerful backer: Baron de Coubertin, who admired the sport’s ethics and team spirit. Rugby entered the programme at the 1900 edition, in Paris, and the home side won.
The sport did not feature at the 1904 Games, in St. Louis, United States, but returned four years later in London, where the home squad was defeated by Australia. When Baron de Coubertin left the presidency of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1925, Rugby left the Games.
While outside the Olympic programme, the sport gained in popularity. In 1994, the International Rugby Board (IRB) was officially recognised by the IOC, and the following year the sport became professional, exactly 100 years after the first league was founded in England.
In 2009, an IOC assembly decided to add the sport once more to the Olympic programme at the 2016 Games. However, the modality to be played in Rio de Janeiro will be rugby with seven players on each team, or rugby sevens, which is very popular around the world.
The game is played on a rectangular grass pitch, with two posts and a cross-post making an “H” shape. Each game has two halves of seven minutes each. The aim is to get the ball to the opposing team’s goal line, but players cannot pass the ball forwards.
The main way of obtaining points is by scoring a try, which is worth five points, when the ball is touched down on the ground after the goal line.