OpinionWednesday, February 12, 2014
Returning to the Olympic Games
With Sochi taking over the Olympic interest for the time being — Winter Games are normally detached from our nation’s sporting approach — rugby’s return to the biggest sporting show of 2016 brought positive news in the last week, mostly for the Argentine Women team that is in a prime position to aim for a place in Rio de Janeiro.
Rugby last played in the Olympic Games in 1924. Only three nations took part in Paris, with the home XV famously losing to the USA who won their second gold rugby medal. A series of events — lack of interest by nations, the retirement of Baron Pierre de Coubertin (a big fan of “English” sports), the violence in the final and the violence from the fans and the Games changing their policy and going mostly for individual sports saw rugby’s departure.
Lobbying to return to the fold began in 1994 and after a failed attempt in 2005, Sevens, in its sevens version was included in the roster for 2016 and 2020.
The dominance of Argentine men’s rugby in the region, is undeniable. The women are behind the Brazilians who have won every South American Championship since it all started in 2004. In South America, women only play international sevens. The gap that opened in the early days when the first CONSUR (South American Rugby Confederation) tournament was organized to please the IOC — it didn’t work and rugby had to wait for four more years — is closing yet the Brazilians have huge support from the International Rugby Board (they play in the Women’s Sevens World Series) and a proactive programme.
Brazilian rugby took a giant step when both the men and women’s sides were confirmed as participants at the Games, opening a big opportunity for the Argentine girls. Their men’s side as they would have found it very hard to qualify on their own terms, yet the girls would have probably found a way to “their” Olympic tournament.
With 12 competing teams per gender, eleven places are still to be found. The top four in each of the male and female IRB-ran sevens series will be in Rio, with a team coming from each of the six regions.
Los Pumas 7s are currently seventh in the 2014-15 IRB Sevens Series so should take their place through the CONSUR tournament to be played around October/November 2015. Unlikely to be in the top four of the sevens series, Argentina’s top team is way too good for regional opposition and the goal of the sevens programme under Santiago Gómez Cora is definitely qualifying first and then aiming for a medal in the Olympics.
The women will have to go through the same system with the added bonus that with Brazil out of the qualifying process they have an easier route. They are currently ranked second in the region and will be ready to take the challenge head on when the time comes next year. If they fail in that stage, they have a final 16-team repechage tournament to secure the last place in the Olympic Games. They must take their place before that.