Olympics: Sevens heaven for Rugby
October 9, 2009 will be remembered as a monumental date in the history of Rugby Union. It was the day on which the International Olympic Committee Session in Copenhagen elected to include Rugby Sevens in the Olympic Games.
Rugby Sevens will make its debut at the 32nd Olympiad in 2016 when the Games are staged in Rio de Janeiro, an apt new dawn in a country where the sport is experiencing significant increase in popularity off the back of the Brazilian women's exploits at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009.
The format will have a familiar feel. Twelve men's and 12 women's teams, 144 Olympic athletes competing over two or three days. It is a proven formula at multi-sport events such as the Commonwealth and World Games and a truly exciting prospect.
The top players have pledged their commitment and each and every one will be proud to call themselves Olympians, while a global audience of billions will see a truly high-octane mix of fast and furious action, highly competitive matches, drama, excitement and a festival of a modern sport.
"This is a historic moment for our sport and for the Rugby family around the world," said International Rugby Board Chairman Bernard Lapasset. "Rugby Sevens will be a great addition to the Olympic Games and Olympic Games inclusion will be fabulous for the growth of the Game.
"I want to thank the IOC membership for their decision to include our sport and I would also like to say a special thank you to the global rugby community for their strong support of the campaign and their hard work in promoting Rugby Sevens around the world."
Pinnacle for Rugby Sevens
When the dust settles the countdown to the inaugural Olympic Rugby Sevens tournament will begin. The consequences for the sport are far reaching. Inclusion will unlock new funding worldwide and access to facilities and infrastructure as many Governments only fund Olympic sports. It will also further establish Rugby Sevens in new and emerging markets and attract new fans, sponsors and broadcasters to the sport.
The campaign by the International Rugby Board gained universal acclaim across the rugby world with leading players like Lawrence Dallaglio, Agustín Pichot, Jonah Lomu and Cheryl Soon leading the way.
The Olympic Games will be the pinnacle for Rugby Sevens; a festival of the world's fittest and finest players. In order to ensure high standards of competition and a Sevens pathway across all continents, the IRB is already working on the qualifying structure, the role of the annual IRB Sevens World Series and the development of women's tournaments.
"Like the IOC we are committed to inspiring a new generation to play and watch sport. Currently there are over three million playing the game in 116 countries. We are determined to see that grow and that's why we are investing £153 million in development programmes over the next four years," said IRB Chief Executive Mike Miller.
"We will work with National Olympic Committees and our own Unions throughout the whole of the Olympiad, investing in training programmes, facilities and competitions to help them prepare for Rugby Sevens at the Olympic Games.
"We are already doing that in Mexico and India to ensure that the Pan American and Commonwealth Games are a huge success - and that a lasting legacy is in place for the growth of Rugby in those countries."
Sides now underestimate Kenya at their peril on the Sevens circuit, the African side having shown that by reaching the RWC Sevens 2009 quarter finals in Dubai
For smaller nations the opportunity to win an Olympic medal resonates, but so too does the opportunity to inspire more people to take up the sport in new communities bound by the Game's ideals of fair play, team work and respect.
Kenya is a modern day rugby success story. In a short space of time the Sevens team, led by the charismatic Humphrey Kayange, has set the world alight over the past two years, causing upsets, entertaining fans and challenging for honours.
They are not alone, Kenya's exploits has prompted growth across Africa with Uganda, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Tunisia, Ivory Coast and Morocco, to name but a few, all making progress on the Sevens circuit. Olympic inclusion will provide another, more significant lift.
The impact that this decision will have on the future of the sport across Africa and in emerging nations around the world should not be underestimated. Rugby Sevens is now firmly on the map, it will be played on the world's greatest sporting stage and there will be significant growth.
"It is every sportsman and woman's dream to participate in an Olympic Games. Now that dream is a reality," said Kayange, a member of the IRB's presentation team in Copenhagen.
"Many sports in Africa are not funded centrally unless they are Olympic sports. Rugby was one of those sports, but now it is an Olympic sport, I would expect to see government support and assistance, NOC support and that means more teams playing at a more competitive level. It is very exciting."
Inclusion will also boost the women's game, which is experiencing significant global appeal. There are now more than 200,000 registered players worldwide and for gold medal winning Australia captain Soon, the heralding of a new era will have a big effect on the development of women's rugby worldwide.
"Women's rugby is experiencing unprecedented growth, but Olympic inclusion will provide further stimulus. We can look forward to the emergence of new nations with Sevens programmes, more competitive tournaments and what I am sure will be a remarkable Olympic Sevens tournament," said Soon.
The campaign, which had its origins a decade ago, was a key goal of the International Rugby Board's Strategic Plan and is testament to the hard work of the IRB, led by Lapasset, the Executive Staff, the IRB Council and of course the global rugby family.
There may still be six years to go until Sevens makes its debut, but the excitement is palpable. Rugby Sevens has finally been welcomed into the Olympic Games and sports fans from around the world will be in for a treat when the inaugural tournament kicks off in Brazil.