OpinionTuesday, March 4, 2014
The challenge of being Olympic
The undeniable worldwide growth of rugby — currently, more than 6.5 million players currently enjoy the game — had a huge boost in 2009, when it was added as a participation sport in the Olympic Games of 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and 2020 in Tokyo.
Its future beyond those two Games will depend on rugby’s success at both those tournaments. For this, the development of the chosen form of rugby, sevens, is high on the International Rugby Board’s agenda and the 116 nations that are members, plus all those who are hoping to one day fully join the oval family. Sevens was chosen as the Olympic version of rugby as it is quicker and can be played over two days; it will include male and female tournaments.
Being an Olympic sport has in most every country — ours included — opened doors to state, local committees and private funding. I was recently in San José, Costa Rica, at the Central American Sevens played by some countries with little or no tradition in our game. Their enthusiasm and passion was contagious. Thanks to this, the local union will be given land to build a rugby field in the city’s biggest and centrally located park thanks to rugby being now an Olympic Sport.
The men have had since 1999 a nine- tournament circuit. Five have already been played: Gold Coast (Australia), Dubai, Port Elizabeth, Las Vegas and Wellington. Tokyo, Hong Kong, Glasgow and London complete the 2013-14 season; all their contracts to the Sevens Series come to an end in 2015. The ladies have had a shorter series since last year.
Yesterday, the IRB announced that 25 national rugby unions had formally shown interest in hosting a tournament in the men’s circuit which could grow from nine to 12 cities. Argentina hosted the Series in 2000 and 2002 and it is one of those unions interested in having a new chance. This will be decided next October when the circuit starting in 2015/16 will be announced.
The huge distances and costs involved make it almost mandatory that two tournaments from the same region work together; other than our country, Brazil and Chile have raised their hand in the hope of being given an opportunity. South America is the only IRB region not to have a tournament since the early 2000s. The other interested nations are: Australia, Canada, China, England, Fiji, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, USA and Wales.
Argentina’s vision for this return has been kept under wraps, although at this early stage it is only a sign of interest. In the near future, more will be known. Ever since 1995 when Mar del Plata hosted the first of its international tournaments — 1995-98-99, the two Sevens Series and Rugby World Cup 7s in 2001 — it became a much-liked stop. Maybe in the near future, we will be able to again enjoy the best of rugby sevens in our shores.