x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Sevens in race for the line

Rugby Sevens will praise the success of the World Cup in Dubai if it becomes an Olympic sport today.

If rugby sevens comes a step closer to becoming one of two new Olympic sports in a vote today, it will be thanks in no small part to the Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament held in Dubai last March.
If rugby sevens comes a step closer to becoming one of two new Olympic sports in a vote today, it will be thanks in no small part to the Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament held in Dubai last March.

DUBAI // If rugby sevens comes a step closer to becoming one of two new Olympic sports in a vote today, it will be thanks in no small part to the Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament held in Dubai last March. The International Rugby Board (IRB) have pulled no punches in their promotion of the shortened version of the game to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and today sevens, along with golf, is the favourite to make the 2016 Olympic schedule.

Other sports competing for the two vacancies are karate, roller sports, baseball, softball and squash. Today the IOC's 15-member board will put forward the two sports that are likely to be added to the Olympic schedule, ahead of October's 106-member vote. The Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union (AGRFU) sevens and 15s player, Dave Clark, said Olympic sevens would be "mind blowing". "Unfortunately, I think I only have one more year left in me in the sevens format, but there are plenty of young guys playing in the Gulf who would relish the opportunity," said the Bahrain-basedNo 8 number eight yesterday.

"The World Cup was a huge step up for us and that was an experience I will take to the grave but you can multiply that tenfold for the Olympics. We sacrificed a lot to get there and if sevens was an Olympic sport, you'd see an even greater work-ethic from players in the Gulf." It was the inclusion of a women's tournament, parallel to the men competition for the first time in a sevens World Cup, that gave the sport the edge and made the three-day event, hosted by the AGRFU, so integral to the IRB's plan of attack.

"The tournament in Dubai was very successful," said Susan Carty, IRB women's development manager yesterday. "Having members of the IOC come along and see how it can lend itself to the Olympic format, for players as well as spectators, was important to our bid and the overall sevens experience." With the women's competition now a firm feature in sevens, the sport finally satisfies the inclusion aspect that the IOC demand from Olympic sports and as the Dubai tournament was watched by a live cumulative crowd of 78,000 and broadcast to an estimated worldwide television audience of 760 million across 141 nations, it also appears to have a widespread appeal.

In fact, so impressed was one IOC delegate, Bob Elphinston, that he was quoted after the tournament saying it was "impressive" adding that sevens was a sport that "seems well-suited to the Olympics". And the benefits to long-term sevens development in the wake of the event have been more than simply putting it firmly on the IOC's agenda. "All you have to do is look at how the game is growing in Africa to see the impact of that tournament," said Carty.

"Uganda is a case-in-point. The development of the women's game there after the success of the Dubai Rugby World Cup Sevens is astonishing." stregoning@thenational.ae