The tournament was first held in 2002 as part of City of York Council's Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations. The competition was awarded a 5* rating from the Rugby League European Federation and was the first nines event in Europe.
The 2007 event has been streamlined with all the competitions taking place on one day rather than two, and eight teams, rather than 12, competing in the Fairfax Cup. The new competition format has the eight teams split into two pools of four, with the top two from each group qualifying for the semi-finals. The bottom two in each group will compete in play-offs to determine finishing positions fifth to eighth.
Teams from England, France and in previous years from Russia compete for the Fairfax Cup, named after Sir Thomas Fairfax. In recent years, this has recently begun to feature professional teams from the National Leagues.
First competed for in 2006, the Archbishop Dolben cup is competed for by "development teams" that are not considered strong enough to take part in the main Fairfax cup. Many of the teams represent the military services of the UK.
There is also a junior grade Marston Moor competition for York and District schools. It is named after the English Civil War battle between Cavaliers and Roundheads. Preliminary rounds will take place on Wednesday June 14 at Heworth Rugby Club. The semi finals and final will then be part of the York International 9s Festival. From 2007, the competition will be expanded to include secondary schools.