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15 April 2024

Olympic dreams shape up

The Rugby World Cup tournament is being watched closely by the IOC. (GETTY IMAGES)

By Ahmad Lala

"Rugby is good for the Olympics and the Olympics is good for rugby," is the answer Mike Miller, the Chief Executive of the International Rugby Board (IRB), gives when asked about his organisation's plans to get sevens recognised on the world's biggest sports stage.

Rugby sevens together with baseball, golf, karate, roller sports, softball and squash are all bidding for inclusion at the 2016 Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will make the final decision in October, but in between now and then plenty of campaigning still remains.

This weekend, two IOC officials will visit the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Dubai to witness first hand the appeal of the sport – a big moment for the emirate; a bigger moment for the IRB.

"The Olympics are looking to rejuvenate their programme and rugby sevens is a very young sport, which also has a young demographic with families and young kids coming to watch," explains Miller. "It is very good for television as well and rugby has good commercial partners.

"So we think we will fit in well with the Olympic programme and give them what they are looking for, which is the next generation of Olympic fans.

"There are also many nations that don't traditionally win medals in the Olympics who would be able to win a medal in rugby sevens.

"For rugby, we are trying to grow the game and we will, but if we become part of the Olympics we will grow much more quickly.

"It's every athlete's ambition to try and win an Olympic medal and although they can achieve a lot in rugby, this is what the top professional players have agreed is the one thing they would love to do."

Bernard Lapasset, the IRB chairman, is also in the emirate. The Frenchman has been hard at work in trying to push for the inclusion of sevens in the Olympics and spent last October in Beijing individually meeting 74 IOC members attending the 2008 Games.

"We received good feedback from our campaign at the Beijing Olympics and from our recent programme presentation in Lausanne [Switzerland]," says Lapasset, whose dream is to see the rugby union family grow from 116 members to 205.

"We have another challenge on June 15 when we have to do a new presentation on what rugby can offer to the Olympics.

"I think it is a good campaign and we have received the full support from all the top players in the world. But we need to continue and keep talking until we progress to the final round in Copenhagen in October."

The Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament, which got underway yesterday, features 24 men's and 16 women's teams competing to be crowned the best in the world at The Sevens venue.

The event is expected to be broadcast to more than 100 countries worldwide, and, both Miller and Lapasset feel that the tournament will provide the perfect showcase for the sport. "There are two representatives from the IOC programme commission here to look at the tournament – as they will also do for the other six sports when they host their world championships," says Miller.

"We expect they will be impressed here. There will be a lot of people at the stadium – it's a great facility – and they will see the pace, dynamism and excitement of sevens rugby.

"They will see how easy it is to organise and how it would fit easily into an Olympic programme. Most people who come to see rugby sevens are converted and they think it is a great game."

Lapasset adds: "It is a big step for us to ensure rugby sevens is not just a regional event, but also a leading world sport. Rugby sevens is growing in terms of broadcasters and commercial partners and, most importantly, the spirit we have on the field is filled with camaraderie, respect and friendship and that's important for the Olympic family.

"We believe sevens is becoming one of the best sports events in the world, and so, not just for rugby, but also our Olympic campaign, we need to ensure that the World Cup here will be a strong event.

"For the first time we are showing that rugby is not reserved for men alone, but women also can participate – that is crucial for us in the campaigning."

The 15s version of rugby has been an Olympic sport in the past featuring in four of the first seven events. The sevens version currently takes place in several other major regional competitions such as the Commonwealth, Asia and All Africa Games.

And, technically, rugby sevens could feature in the Olympics in London 2012. According to IOC rulings, the host city may include a cultural event at the Games – something that may just be considered should England win the Melrose Cup here tomorrow.