World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper believes it is important that rugby sevens puts on a “big show” when it makes its Olympic debut at Rio 2016 in order to further its case to become a core sport on the Games programme.
Rugby sevens was named as an additional sport for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics Games, at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Copenhagen in 2009.
Gosper claims there is a growing awareness in Brazil that rugby sevens will prove a spectator friendly event at Rio 2016 and is hopeful of the sport having a similar impact to beach volleyball, which was added to the Olympic programme following its success as a demonstration event at Barcelona 1992.
“We are trying to give rugby exposure over as many days as possible over those two Olympic weeks and we believe ticket sales are strong,” he said.
“We think it will sit very well in Rio, as it is not just about the magnificent athletes on the field, but also the festive atmosphere and word it getting out that it is a fun event to go along to.
“We are confident of putting on a big show and it is important that we do, as very soon afterwards we will be evaluated on whether sevens will become a core Olympic sport so we have to get it right.”
Gosper was speaking ahead of the launch of the start of the 2015-2016 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Dubai.
Ahead of the tournament, title sponsors HSBC announced they had teamed up with strategic planning consultancy, The Futures Company, to produce a report titled “Breaking New Ground”, detailing rugby’s evolution and growth as it stands on the brink of a game-changing year.
Four-time Olympic champion sprinter Michael Johnson and Jason Robinson, a member of England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup winning team, were among several influential voices from the world of sport interviewed as part of the report, which claimed global participation in rugby has increased by over 50 per cent in less than a decade.
Robinson expects the trend to continue as a result of sevens inclusion at Rio 2016 claiming the lure of the Olympics will attract several star names from rugby union to compete and believes the event with create household names.
“We are seeing the likes of Sonny Bill Williams saying they want to try sevens and are massively excited about the possibility of playing in the Olympics,” he said.
“I played in two codes, three World Cup and Lions tours, every major event rugby had to offer but one thing I did not get the opportunity to do was play at the Olympics.
“It is going to give them a global platform to showcase what they can do and it is a once in a lifetime opportunity for them.”
The report also revealed the sport’s inclusion at the Olympic Games has led opened the game up to further markets having featured at recent editions of Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Pan-American Games and Summer Youth Olympic Games.
Additionally, the number of female players has grown from 200,000 to 1.7 million in the last three years, it is estimated while 15-a-side, beach, tag and touch are all claimed to be benefiting ahead of Rio 2016.
The development of a regional league for 15-a-side is cited an example of the sport’s development worldwide and Johnson, currently mentoring the United States rugby sevens team, believes there is an opportunity to thrive despite a crowded market in America.
“Everyone can’t play baseball, basketball, football and parents are looking at other opportunities to get involved in sport, there is a chance for rugby to really develop over the next couple of years,” said Johnson, the men’s 400 metres world record holder.
“USA Rugby has been doing a very good job of identifying those athletes who have that competitiveness and scrappiness.
“Maybe they haven’t made it in another sport and refused to give up.
“We are seeing a significant uptake at grassroots level with boys and girls participating.”