Rugby Expo was launched this week in London as the world's first conference and exhibition dedicated solely to the sport of Rugby.
Since turning professional at the top level in 1995, the Game has come a long way and in response to that journey the new conference bills itself as 'the meeting place for the rugby industry, bringing together the top decision makers in both union and league with key contacts, sponsors and suppliers to network, do business and learn from industry leaders in a comprehensive conference programme'.
"It's the first time that rugby as an industry has had a business-to-business conference and exhibition and I think that was lacking," said IRB Head of Communications Greg Thomas.
"There's Soccerex, which is hugely successful in the football industry, and this is a chance now for anybody involved in the business of rugby to get together, network and do business.
"There were manufacturers of equipment, lawyers, risk managament, insurance companies, kit manufacturers, a lot of them there and it shows how big and diverse rugby now is.
"There was also included a small rugby league component, so for the first time we've seen the two codes come together as a business, which is quite exciting as well."
The IRB was itself one of the exhibitors at the conference.
"We were there to show what we do as a world governing body," added Thomas. "We had a stand there for the IRB Academy, which is about improving education and teaching people how to run and administer rugby unions. IRB SOS Kit Aid was also there promoting what we can do for developing countries in terms of kit and we also there to explain our Olympic campaign."
As part of the conference, Thomas was also involved in a debate on the benefits of rugby's involvement in the Olympics.
"What I got out of it was a huge sense of support now for our campaign. I think in the past there's been debate on the relevance of Sevens in the Olympics, people questioning whether we need the Olympics. This time there is huge support for this campaign and I think it bodes well for next October, when big decisions will be made."
SOS Kit Aid wins Corporate Social Responsibility Award
SOS IRB Kit Aid won the Corporate Social Responsibility Award at the inaugural Rugby Expo.
The charity collects clean, used kit from schools, clubs and other suppliers in the UK and delivers it to rugby clubs and schools in developing rugby nations.
"Everyone involved in SOS IRB Kit Aid should take great credit for the rugby project's success in winning this," said the charity's founder John Broadfoot.
"Thanks to the IRB, SOS has rapidly increased its activities during 2008 and by the end of the year will have delivered nearly £1.5 million pounds worth of kit to 11 emerging nations since we started in 2001.
"I hope this gives people in the rugby world the confidence to donate even more kit to SOS and to consider sponsoring us so that we can make real in-roads into our growing waiting list of 55 emerging rugby nations, all of whom are crying out for kit."
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