Rugby union is a close-contact team sport that originated in England in the first half of the 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand. In its most common form, a game is played between two teams of 15 players each, using an oval-shaped ball on a rectangular field called a pitch.

Rugby union has been a men's medal sport at the modern Summer Olympic Games, being played at four of the first seven competitions. The sport debuted at the 1900 Paris games where the gold medal was won by the host nation. It was subsequently featured at the London games in 1908, the Antwerp games in 1920 and the Paris games in 1924.

Shortly after the 1924 games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) dropped rugby union as an Olympic sport.

The crowd violence during, and the pitch invasion after, the 1924 Olympic Final served to give rugby a poor image. This, combined with the problems of attracting sufficient teams to make it a viable competition, the desire to include more individual and women's events, and the departure of a major advocate when Baron Pierre De Coubertin stepped down as head of the Olympic Movement in 1925, marked the downfall of rugby at the Olympics.

Since then there have been numerous attempts to bring the sport back to the Olympic programme. In October 2009 the IOC voted at its session in Copenhagen to include the sevens version of the sport in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

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