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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

D-Day for Olympic rugby closes in

The campaign to get rugby sevens into the Olympics faced its biggest test so far this weekend when it and the other six bidding sports made their presentations to the IOC Executive Board at Lausanne in Switzerland.

This was a vital meeting as it was the last chance each sport had to appeal directly to the IOC's main decision makers. It is likely that, after the next IOC meeting in August, only two sports will go forward for possible inclusion in 2016 Games. There is no certainty that any sports will be selected - that is what happened four years ago - so even making it through to the "final" will not guarantee anything.

Remarkably, most of the most knowledgeable observers see rugby as one of the main front-runners. It is one of three team sports under consideration, but the other two - baseball and softball - were only dropped from the games four years ago, which is why the vacancies appeared and the suggestion is that the IOC would not want to be seen to be changing its mind so quickly. Certainly baseball - which could not even promise to produce its best players for an Olympic tournament (though it generously said it US Major League Baseball games would take place on the same day as Olympic games) - seems to be losing ground.

On the other hand rumour has it that softball - a major women's sport - was dropped largely by accident because too many IOC delegates confused it with baseball - so it is possible that delegates might want to put this right.

However if softball does not make it, rugby - who included two women in this six-strong delegation - looks very well placed. Supposedly the IOC were impressed by the Sevens World Cup despite the fact that it attracted almost zero press coverage even in Wales, who won the mens tournament. Clearly the IOC have learnt a lot from the non-inclusion of women in its 2005 bid but, as has been said on here before, the question is how deep the IOC's commitment to women's rugby really is. Personally I doubt it as actions do not seem to follow words and the IRB is miles behind FIRA, for example, in its practical support of the women's game.

However rugby's supposed most significant competition is even worse. Golf is still run by a private club that bans women from being members and would saddle an host city with the need to find a championship 18-hole golf course (not cheap). On the other hand the sport does have a huge marketing and TV audience, especially in the USA (whose TV networks bankroll the Games).

While leaves roller sports, Karate, and squash trailing, perhaps because of low marketing and TV potential. So at the moment it looks like the IOC will pick two from softball, golf and rugby.

However what no-one seems to be talking about is what effect on the game inclusion in the Olympics will have, both women's rugby and the game as a whole. It will undoubtedly lead to better funding of rugby countries like Russia - but the risk is that that will be better funding for sevens, not 15s.

1 comment:

  1. Play are part and sign the petition at


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