Olympics to be rugby's calling card
Posted at 4th December 2010 / 11:18
And Mark Egan, head of development at the International Rugby Board (IRB), said Sevens was ideal for growing the shortened game and full 15-a-side rugby, for both men and women.
"It's a very exciting time for Sevens with its inclusion in the Olympics," Egan said, speaking ahead of the opening Dubai leg of the IRB Sevens World Series which kicks off on Friday.
"We've had a lot of success in multi-sport games over the years. The Asian Games and Commonwealth Games were both very successful.
"There are 205 National Olympic Committees and rugby has 117 member unions, with Iran just accepted as associate member, so that makes 118.
"We have another 80 countries where we can take our sport to. Sevens is one of rugby's greatest calling cards. When you put a Sevens tournament in a place, it leaves behind a great legacy and impression of our sport."
Egan said that a 12-strong review panel, including high-performance managers, coaches, women's rugby officials and IRB staff had been working on a plan for Sevens, and all IRB member unions had been surveyed on where the sport was going in their countries.
"We have to make sure 2016 is successful," he said. "We'll be working very hard over the next six months to finalise the strategic plan and get it approved by our council in May.
"In the plan, we look at development, high-performance, competition models, how we leverage the opportunity of the Olympics, how we make sure member unions link Sevens growth to 15s.
"The key theme is that this is an opportunity to grow the sport, not just Sevens.
"Our current plan has the target of growing membership from 3.5 million to six million by 2020. There's a lot of work to be done and Sevens will help us."
Egan said that Sevens would not be included as a demonstration sport at the 2012 London Games, adding that key principles had been established over 2016 qualification models, with IOC approval for that coming only in 2014.
"There'll be at least one qualifier from each of the five Olympic regions," Egan said.
"The number of teams is already confirmed: 12 men's and 12 women's teams. There's no negotiation on that."
He added that the 16-team format used in the eight-leg World Series was the IRB's preferred competition model, but the IOC was not budging on 12 teams.
New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens, whose side won gold at the Commonwealth Games, said one of the most attractive aspects of Sevens was its unpredictability.
"The game's changed, physically and in skill sets. Many years ago, generally it was New Zealand and Fiji who were considered the top two teams," he said.
"But we've seen the emergence of six or seven teams at any given time that can go out and win a tournament, such as the United States or Kenya.
"Looking at the draw, we're going out into the unknown."
He added: "The sport is growing and for it to become an Olympic sport is something outstanding."