Few people are embedded in the fabric of the Olympic Games like Sebastian Coe.
As an athlete and administrator, Coe has been at the sharp end of the biggest sporting event in the world, and is therefore perfectly placed to predict what lies ahead for Rugby when Sevens joins the Olympic programme in less than three years’ time.
As an athlete, Coe was a British Olympic hero, winning gold medals in the 1,500 metres at the 1980 and 1984 Games in Moscow and Los Angeles respectively.
As an administrator, he was seen as the perfect individual to lead London’s bid for the 2012 Games Olympics. Having helped to deliver the winning bid, he then became chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), and the Games were hailed as a triumph at home and abroad.
The next edition of the Summer Games, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro in 2016, will welcome Rugby Sevens onto the programme, with the inaugural 12-team men’s and women’s competitions at the Olympics set to provide the sport with an unprecedented opportunity to establish itself as truly universal.
For Coe, who extended a long-held link with the Olympic movement by becoming chairman of the British Olympic Association nearly a year ago after his tenure as LOCOG chairman ended, the addition of Sevens to the Games represents a "win-win" situation for Rugby and for the Games.
"It’s a great opportunity for Rugby and for the Olympics," Coe said.
"The Olympic rings are the most recognisable brand in the world. The Olympic movement is the most powerful driver of change through sport – both social and economic – and to have Rugby sitting at the table alongside other great sports is significant for both sides.
"If we are talking about legacy, the Olympic Games lead to legacies in all sorts of areas. Whether it is more coaches or more volunteers, or more young people understanding what Rugby is about, I think the sport will benefit from a strong series of legacies through the Games."
One of the key messages that helped to persuade members of the International Olympic Committee to vote for London’s bid to stage the 2012 Olympics was a commitment to building a solid foundation for sustainable sports participation amongst youngsters.
Coe believes this focus on youth is an important reason why Rugby is primed for a positive experience through joining the Olympic programme.
"In terms of the Olympic movement, Sevens has a great opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation and youth engagement at the Games.
"It’s a very attractive sport for young people and in fairness it brings countries into the movement that may not have had a strong handhold on the Olympic Games."
Rugby has not featured in the Olympics since 1924, but men’s and women’s Sevens competitions have been guaranteed a spot on the programme for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Japan, as well as the 2016 Games in Rio and the sport is enjoying global participation, commercial, attendance and profile growth.
Rugby participation has experienced a 19 per cent participation boom since the sport was overwhelmingly voted back onto the Olympic Games programme in 2009. Women’s Rugby has been at the forefront of that growth and is integral to its continuing success.
Asia, Latin and North America are significant growth regions and, according to Coe, the opportunity to promote Sevens through the Games in such territories is crucial.
"You might have Fiji as a potential gold medal-winner in the Sevens and I think we can be open and say that it is probably unlikely to happen in too many other sports," Coe said.
"I think we recognise that for Rugby it is a great opportunity to globalise and grow the sport, particularly for young people and the Olympic movement. It takes us into countries where there is a great feel for that.
Heritage is important
"All sports that have an Olympic profile tend to get a greater handhold in those countries."
Wheelchair Rugby made its full debut at the Paralympic Games in 2000 after being a demonstration sport four years earlier and the IRB is collaborating with the International Federation to share knowledge and support growth structures.
Now that Rugby has followed suit by joining the Olympics, becoming a part of the Games will allow youngsters taking up Rugby to "have a dream" of where their journey could take them, all through the gateway of Sevens joining the Olympics.
"It is important for people to understand a lot more about the Olympic movement and what its history is," Coe said.
"I always encourage young people taking up the sport to understand what their heritage is, what the great teams were, and who the great players and coaches were.
"Join a club and recognise that you do not only have the opportunity of playing Rugby for your country, but be one of very few people to say that you are an Olympian."
Sebastian Coe will be speaking at the inaugural IRB World Rugby Conference and Exhibition, taking place in Dublin from 17-20 November 2013. Click here for more details.
Player Quotes of Support
“More than anything, Sevens embodies the Olympic ideals of camaraderie, fair play and respect on and off the field of play.” – Shane Williams, Wales
“You play sport at the highest level to challenge yourself to be the best that you can possibly be and to compete with the best from all over the world, and what better stage to do that on than at the Olympics?” – Sue Day, England
“Going to the Commonwealth Games was amazing and to have the chance to go to the Olympics would be right up there with anything you could possibly dream of doing in sport.” – Tamati Ellison, New Zealand
CLICK HERE FOR MORE SUPPORT QUOTES >>
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