ESTABLISHED IN 2017
The idea behind the Tropical 7s was first sown in 2009 at the Olympic Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark when rugby was reinstated as an Olympic Sport for the first time since 1924! This time, however, it would be the turn of the more exciting and more accessible ‘Rugby 7s’ format of the game that would help grow the game internationally and finally feature at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
It wasn’t until 2016 that the idea for Tropical 7s, a rugby 7s festival targeted at youth age groups combining both a rugby and a vacation experience, was fully conceived. A number of possible sites in the Central Florida were assessed and The Omni Orlando Resort was chosen because of its 8-field sports complex and close proximity to many of Orlando’s world famous attractions. The Omni would be the home of Tropical 7s for the next 5 years.
The inaugural edition of the Tropical 7s took place over Easter weekend of 2017 and featured 25 teams across 5 divisions: U18 Boys, U18 Girls, U16 Boys, U23 Men and U23 Women. The tournament received great a response from the Florida rugby community and also featured the USA Rugby and Canada Rugby U18 national girls teams who were preparing for the the Youth Olympic Games, as well as the first team from Europe, British side Old Halesonians. This first year also proved Tropical 7s as an ideal training camp venue: teams were given field access in the days leading up to the tournament, coaching sessions were delivered by former South African ‘Springbok’ stars and an Athlete Combine focussed specifically on rugby 7s skills and physical attributes was introduced.
The 2018 Tropical 7s saw the tournament double in size with 50 participating teams, expanding from 5 to 9 divisions and attracting a larger number of international teams (approx. 40% of team entries). The tournament featured its first side from Africa, the Zambezi Steelers, who travelled over 8000 miles from Zimbabwe to take the U18 Boys title and Toronto Elite Reds (Canada) won the U18 Girls division, underlying the tournament’s growing international credentials.
By 2019, Tropical 7s had doubled in size again with over 1600 registered players representing 110 teams across 11 divisions from U14 up to U23. Almost half of all team entries were international teams and for the first time there were as many girls teams as there were boys sides, evidence of the continued global growth of the girls game. At U18 level, Tropical 7s was included as part of the North American High School 7s Series (NAHS7s), featuring a number of elite North American academies and the tournament showcased some of the best rugby athletes on the continent. Atlantis Rugby took both the U18 Boys and U18 Girls titles while the U23/University divisions developed more traction with Rugby Quebec (Canada) and Life University (USA) taking the Mens and Women’s titles respectively. The 2019 event also saw the launch of the international referee coaching programme, a Talent ID programme featuring national selectors from USA Rugby and Rugby Canada as well as a number of US college scouts and an enhanced Athlete Combine through a new partnership with USA Weightlifting.
In 2020, the stage was set for the biggest and best Tropical 7s to date with over 130 teams registered for the tournament. Unfortunately, due to the COVID pandemic, the Tropical 7s team were forced to take the difficult decision to cancel the event just a matter of weeks before the start of the event, offering full refunds to every registered team. The cancellation was a huge disappointment for everyone involved but the response of the Tropical 7s community ensured that the tournament would return.
The 2021 Tropical 7s was a triumph in the face of uncertainty! Despite rugby’s tentative return to play, the tournament became the first youth rugby tournament in the USA to return to rugby in the wake of the global pandemic. While travel restrictions prohibited international teams from attending, the tournament secured its largest number of US teams to date with close to 60 teams playing across 6 divisions, and the event was well-appreciated by the US rugby community after such a long break from the sport. Later that same year, Keyara Wardley who featured in the U18 Canada girl's team at the inaugural Tropical 7s in 2017, would take to the field at the Tokyo Olympics, marking the journey of the first player from Tropical 7s to compete at an Olympic Games!
2022 marks the start of an exciting new chapter for the Tropical 7s. The tournament moves from its original venue in Orlando to the 15-field state-of-the-art facility at Tournament Sportsplex of Tampa Bay ready to welcome everyone back to the Tropical 7s in April 2022!