In October 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark, the International
Olympic Committee will vote on which city should host the 2016
Summer Games. The field is down to four candidate cities: Chicago
(USA), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Madrid (Spain) and Tokyo (Japan).
The IOC will also vote on the composition of the sports programme for the 2016 Olympic Games as it seeks to modernise the Games. The IRB believes Rugby should be reintroduced to the Games following its last appearance in 1924 in Paris.
The Beijing Games in 2008 will comprise 28 sports. However, at the IOC session in Singapore in 2005 baseball and softball were voted out of the sports programme for London 2012 during a process the IOC had set up to start a modernisation of the sports programme. Unfortunately in Singapore the IOC chose not to include any new sports for London 2012 from a shortlist of Rugby, karate, squash, golf and roller sports.
The IOC has continued to review the sports programme for the Summer Games and is now committed to having 28 sports in the 2016 Olympic Games. Rugby is again on a shortlist of sports for inclusion that also includes baseball, softball, karate, squash, golf and roller sports.
Which form of Rugby should be included?
The Olympic Games only lasts 16 days. Staging a credible Fifteens competition in that period is not feasible due to player welfare issues and therefore the IRB believes Rugby Sevens (men and women's tournaments) would be the ideal form of the Game for Olympic inclusion in 2016.
Rugby Sevens is a proven formula in multi-sport events highlighted by its participation in the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, World Games and from 2010 the Pan American Games. Talks are also underway to have it included in the African Games in the near future. Add to this the fact that we also have a Sevens Rugby World Cup heritage and the highly successful annual IRB Sevens World Series it is not hard to see why Sevens make sense.
The IRB has a strategic plan in place for Rugby Sevens and a recent review of the IRB World Sevens Series revealed that participating Unions believe it is a valuable tool for developing talent and specific skill sets. Rugby Sevens also has the potential to open up new markets around the world. Markets that will assist in the continued global spread of Rugby.
Rugby Sevens has experienced substantial growth in recent years that has mirrored the overall global growth of our great sport. It is a fast, action-packed sport that is played by boys, girls, men and women of all shapes, sizes, religions and creed.
The IRB Sevens World Series delivers a wonderful mix of speed, guile, world-class athletes and exotic international locations making it a well attended, colourful and a popular feature on the annual world sporting calendar. The IRB believes these outstanding attributes should see Rugby Sevens admitted to the Olympic Games in the future.
The statistics speak for themselves.
Rugby Sevens' brand of fast-paced action, world class players and global locations is attractive to sports fans worldwide. Last season's IRB Sevens World Series attracted crowds in excess of 250,000, with Rugby World Cup Sevens 2005 in Hong Kong attracting 120,000 supporters over the three competition days. A record crowd of 50,000 attended the final session of the Rugby Sevens Tournament at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and with 150,000 tickets sold over two days it was the second most watched sport at the Games after athletics.
Rugby Sevens is the ideal vehicle for developing new rugby talent in emerging nations and its growing appeal is mirrored by record broadcast figures. The Rugby World Cup Sevens in Hong Kong enjoyed 160 hours of live broadcast coverage in 37 countries and an additional 40 hours of delayed broadcast coverage in a further 63 countries. There were 9.56 million hits on the Tournament-specific website. In March 2009 Dubai in the Middle East will host the next Sevens Rugby World Cup.
The 2006/07 IRB Sevens World Series was very competitive. It was televised by 30 international broadcasters in 11 different languages and reached 213 million homes (up 24 million on 2005/06) in 137 countries (up 1), and had a potential global cumulative reach of over 530 million (up 45 million). Live coverage increased dramatically during the season with 911 hours of action (up 72%)
These are impressive figures but unfortunately there is a lot of ignorance about the development importance of Rugby Sevens, its global spread and the fact that it is a sport in its own right. The present challenge for the IRB is to ensure the IOC understands the growth and popularity of Rugby Sevens. The campaign also needs the full support of the entire Rugby community if we are to be successful in having Rugby re-introduced to the Olympic Games.
What would it mean to Rugby
Entry into the Olympic Games could prove to be the key to further development funding for the Game, for established countries and emerging countries such as USA, Russia, China, and Germany. The Rugby World Cup is providing significant funding for strategic investment programmes but Olympic inclusion would unlock funding for Rugby in countries where government funding of sport is largely dependent on Olympic Games participation. In all probability inclusion would mean financial support, access to training facilities, academies, etc, and elevate the status of Rugby as a sport in these countries.
An Olympic Games Rugby Sevens tournament - one for men and one for women - would be the pinnacle of the sport of Rugby Sevens. The Fifteens game already has the Rugby World Cup. Rugby Sevens would give smaller developing Unions in regions such as Asia, Oceania and Africa an unprecedented chance to compete and win medals. The best example is the fact that Fiji is the reigning Rugby World Cup Sevens champion.