British Olympic Association Chairman Lord Sebastian Coe believes the inclusion of Rugby Sevens into the Olympic movement at Rio in 2016 will help address one of the major challenges facing sport in the 21st century.
Answering questions from Rugby World Cup winner Will Greenwood during a breakfast session at the IRB World Rugby Conference and Exhibition in Dublin, Coe spoke of the virtues of Sevens and the all-round athleticism of its participants as well as its ability to bring more young people into sport as a whole.
“You’ve only got to watch Sevens at its best to see that it is ostensibly a young person’s game,” Coe said. “For the Olympic movement that is important, because, if the challenge of the 20th century was to take sport to the world, the challenge of the 21st century is to take sport to young people.
“I don’t really mind how we do that, but I think we can’t be too theological about it. It is so important that young people are given the opportunity to see sport at the highest level and sometimes they can steer us in the right direction.”
Coe’s love of rugby shone through during the 45-minute session, with the 57-year-old double gold Olympic medallist admitting that, these days, he watches more of the oval ball game than track and field because of his son’s involvement on the wing or at full back on the playing fields of Cranleigh School.
At the elite end of the abbreviated format of the Game, Coe continues to marvel at the skills on show.
“If you look at the physical literacies, and you look at the hand-eye coordination, the speed, the strength, the stamina … Sevens has it all.”
Sevens can enhance
“It is interesting for someone like me, who has watched rugby for a long time, to see how incredibly physical and athletic the sport has become. I sort of sensed that it all began to change at the end of the 1970s with the All Blacks team of the Sid Going era. Suddenly you were looking at guys who were built like decathletes.
“I think Sevens will add a dimension to the athleticism of young people; I think it is a great addition to the Olympic movement.”
For Coe, the reintroduction of Rugby to the Olympic Games in 2016 - after a 92-year absence - will see a long-held ambition finally come to fruition.
“I’m delighted that Rugby is now an officially recognised Olympic sport,” he said.
“In fact, Debbie (Jevans – England Rugby 2015 Chief Executive) and I did some work in the late 90s with the IRB to sit down and think about what the possibilities were and whether there were advantages to it.
“I’ve always been convinced that being part of the Olympic movement will only add to this Game and give it a slightly different dimension.
“I also think that the presence of Sevens in the Olympic Games will enhance the strength of Test match rugby, and that’s really important, because you can’t have them working against each other.”
Engagement the key
As one of the principal driving forces behind the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Coe knows better than anyone what it takes to stage a successful sporting event.
Sharing his thoughts on how Rugby World Cup 2015 can raise the bar in its own right, Coe stressed the importance of volunteers, of which there were 70,000 for the Games, and engaging the general public at large.
“Volunteers are the difference between a good and a great Games. It is really important you get that right,” he said. “You also need a local focus. The torch relay was important for us in that respect because it started the countdown.
“Very early on you have to establish why you are doing it. It could just be seen as a World Cup only for people around Twickenham, but it must be seen as something that engages communities.
“You have to give people a reason to be part of the journey.”
With the Rugby Football Union’s recently announced Young Rugby Ambassadors initiative and the Posts in the Park project already up and running, it appears that RWC 2015 is firmly on the roadmap to success outlined by Coe.
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
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