Qualifiers kick off in June for Olympic rugby 7s in Tokyo

TOKYO — Continental qualifiers for the rugby sevens competition at the Tokyo Olympics will kick off in June.

The top four teams in the World Sevens Series will qualify automatically, and currently both gold medalists from the inaugural Olympic rugby sevens tournament in Rio de Janeiro — the Australian women's team and the Fijian men — are in good position heading into the Hong Kong stop this weekend.

The U.S. team leads the men's series from New Zealand, Fiji and South Africa, leaving Australia and England outside of the automatic qualifying spots with four rounds remaining. New Zealand, silver medalists in Rio, lead the women's series from the United States, Canada and Australia.

In regional qualifiers, there will be one automatic qualification place on offer from each of Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania, South America and North America.

In the women's qualifying, the winner of tournaments in Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania and South America will earn a spot at the Tokyo Olympics. In North America, if two teams qualify directly from the World Sevens Series, there will be no direct qualification from the regional competition. Instead, the two highest-ranked teams will go into a 12-team Olympic repechage tournament in 2020, where the two teams will secure a spot in Tokyo.

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said the inclusion of rugby sevens at the Olympics "was a defining moment for the sport" and had led to rapid growth in the men's and women's games and a more competitive world series.

"Throughout the global regional sevens competitions, we have also seen the emergence of teams who can compete among the best of the world when on the world series," he said. "The strength and global competitiveness of sevens is growing at pace."

Continental qualifiers start June 1 with a women's tournament in Lima, Peru. Other qualifiers include the July 6-7 North American tournament in the Cayman Islands, the Oceania tournament in Fiji on Nov. 7-9 and in Asia from Nov. 9.

The Olympic tournament will be held July 27 to Aug. 1 next year at Tokyo Stadium.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sport

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