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Rugby would scrap sevens World Cup for Olympic status

27 May 2009

Rugby sevens' chances of admission into the Olympics could be improved by a proposal from the sport's ruling body to scrap its increasingly popular World Cup.

The Rugby World Cup Sevens in Dubai in March featured 98 games and had a television reach of 760 million viewers but the International Rugby Board, which governs both 15-a-side rugby and the truncated version of the sport, is prepared to sacrifice the event in favour of the Olympics.

"If we were to be re-included in the Olympic Games, our intention would be to stop the Rugby World Cup Sevens so there would be one pinnacle in the four-year cycle of rugby sevens," IRB chief executive Mike Miller said Tuesday.

"That pinnacle would be the Olympic Games."

Rugby, which was dropped from the Olympics after the 1924 Games, is vying with golf, baseball, softball, squash, karate and roller sports for one of two spots at the 2016 Summer Games.

Cheryl Soon led Australia to victory in the women's competition at the Rugby World Cup Sevens but said she still sees the Olympics as a bigger incentive for those thinking of taking up the sport. There are 3 million players worldwide registered with the IRB.

"To win a medal at the Olympics is the absolute pinnacle," Soon said. "It's what we dream of. If it wasn't included as an Olympic sport, I'd be disappointed by that."

The IRB is still compiling its report on this year's Rugby World Cup Sevens, but the 2005 tournament in Hong Kong generated between $US18 million ($A22.89 million) and $US20 million ($A25.44 million) from commercial programs, ticketing and broadcast revenues.

The IRB expects the extra exposure and subsequent revenue that would generated by Olympic status to at least compensate for that.

The IRB sees inclusion as a big part of its efforts to spread the sport beyond its traditional strongholds of northern Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

"The Olympics is the biggest sporting stage that there is and also gives us the opportunity to be seen by people who wouldn't necessarily look at rugby," Miller said.

A group including Miller, IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset, Kenya sevens captain Humphrey Kayange and Soon will make a presentation to the IOC executive board at its meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, on June 15-16.

The IOC will then consider the seven sports' bids, with the board expected to recommend two at a meeting in Berlin in August.

The final decision will be made at the IOC session in Copenhagen in October.

IOC members attended the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Dubai, where Wales surprisingly won the men's competition and Australia beat traditional rival New Zealand in the women's edition.

The IRB pointed out that all four semi-finalists had upset more favoured sides in the previous round and suggested that smaller countries' success could count in its favour at the vote.

"We are confident about our chances of June, but not complacent," Lapasset said.

"We believe the rugby sevens world cup in Dubai left a very positive impression."

Stuart Condie
AP

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