A big step forward

A big step forward

IOCs decision to include rugby in the 2016 Olympics could transform it into a truly global sport

No question, according to those who have worked tirelessly to turn the Olympic rings oval-shaped. "We've had so many people approaching us to say this is going to be massive for the game in their countries," said Mike Miller, chief executive of the International Rugby Board. "This could be the launchpad which transforms rugby into a truly global sport."

The potential is certainly hard to ignore. Rugby has spent years trying to penetrate the huge markets of China, India, Russia and the Americas and now has the perfect tool.
The established nations are not unbeatable at sevens, with Fiji, Argentina and Kenya proving highly competitive in the shortened form of the game. Women's sevens has also made significant strides, with Brazil increasingly prominent. It adds up to a spectacular, high-speed package which the IOC found impossible to resist.

There will also be considerable benefits, according to Miller, for the established 15-a-side game. "It's difficult to get hard figures but all forms of rugby will grow: not just sevens but 15s, tag rugby and beach rugby. Millions of pounds will be made available by governments and flow into the sport.

In Russia at the moment, for example, only Olympic sports can be taught in schools. There will now be a lot more interest. Governments will see there is a far greater opportunity of getting a medal in sevens than in many other sports where they don't have a chance. We just want to get a rugby ball in people's hands, no matter what version of the game it is. Sevens and the Olympics will be a perfect match."

Fears that rugby might head down the same road as cricket, where the growth of Twenty20 cricket is threatening to erode the Test game, are dwarfed by the immense possibilities. The IRB has 116 member countries but 205 nations participate in the Olympic Games.

Prove something
"There are 190 million people in Brazil," continued Miller. "They are out to prove something to the rest of the world and they want to do well. They already know they can compete in women's rugby sevens and I expect them to make a huge investment. That's just one country. India's population is 1.1 billion. China has 1.3 billion. The Chinese military in China are very keen on rugby because of the discipline and teamwork involved. They could become proficient very quickly."

For British and Irish players and coaches alike, there is also likely to be a major reassessment of sevens as a specialist career option. "Any player would love to represent his or her country in the Olympic Games because it is a major pinnacle for any athlete," acknowledged the Wales and Lions fly-half Stephen Jones.

The team representing Team GB at the 2016 Games would potentially be a Lions selection in miniature and the profile of this season's World Sevens Series is bound to increase. "We can all see the benefits," said the England sevens coach Ben Ryan. "It's the most exciting time I've known in rugby, a real milestone moment in the history of the game."